How can we face the sustainable food production challenge?

One of the most important tests that the food industry is facing today is the sustainable production challenge. Currently, 870 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition; and the majority of them are living in rural areas. Besides, the world population is expected to reach 9.1 billion people by 2050. Additionally, the economy will triple the size due to the economic growth of developed countries; which will highly increase food demand. Satisfying the basic needs of those people will suppose a great challenge for agriculture, as food production should rise and the way that food is produced should be transformed.

On the other hand, agriculture is also being threatened by the impacts of climate change, ecological degradation and natural resources scarcity. Yields are drying up due to the overuse of the past decades. However, there is huge potential for yield growth in developing countries by small-scale agriculture; which could meet the sustainable production challenge while delivering agricultural development for people in poverty [1]. Furthermore, climate change poses a serious risk for food production. Firstly, rising temperatures will affect negatively yield growth. Secondly, extreme weather events could have a big impact on poor farmers and its crops.

At the same time, higher incomes and increasing urbanization have caused a larger demand of products like meat, dairy, fish, fruit, and vegetables; which require a bigger use of scarce resources such as land, water or atmospheric space.  In this context, food production must be doubled in the next 40 years to feed 9 billion people, and this challenge must be achieved in a truly sustainable way within environmental boundaries [2].

For these reasons, the Food Footprint should be reduced in order to lessen greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity losses and water pollution. The Food Footprint is based on the Ecological Footprint, which is the sustainability indicator which measures the total environmental pressure of the human population in the environment [3]. This way, the Food Footprint is the segment of the Ecological Footprint which is due to food production. The Food Footprint consists of these elements: land used for food production, land required to absorb carbon dioxide food emissions and sea area needed for fishing.


Some of the solutions propose to accomplish a sustainable food system are reducing biofuel demand for food crops, improving soil and water management, making fertilization more efficient or improving the feed efficiency of ruminant livestock [4]. However, what can we do as consumers to promote sustainable behaviors patterns at this scenario and reduce our Food Footprint? Some of the measures proposed for individuals are the followings:

Tackling these challenges is not going to be an easy path. Nevertheless, some changes can be made at both political and individual levels in order to build a better future in terms of food equity, security and sustainability.  As responsible citizens, we can start reducing the impacts of our consumption and making pressure on governments, as a previous step to achieve medium and longer-term solutions.


[1] OXFAM INTERNATIONAL (2011) Growing a Better Future: Food justice in a resource-constrained world

[2] Foley, J. “Can we feed the world and sustain the planet? A five-step global plan could double food production by 2050 while greatly reducing environmental damage” in Scientific American, November, 2011

[3] ISAUK Research & Consulting (2007) A Definition of ‘Carbon Footprint’

[4] World Resource Institute (2013) Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A menu of solutions to sustainably feed more than 9 billion people by 2050

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