Protein rich western diets are unsustainable: Global Food Policy report

The report also says global agriculture accounts for a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, and climate-ready crops that are water-efficient are key to feeding the growing population


Beef production requires four times more land than cattle for every unit of protein, and beef is seven times more resource-intensive than pork and poultry, the report said. Photo: Bloomberg
Beef production requires four times more land than cattle for every unit of protein, and beef is seven times more resource-intensive than pork and poultry, the report said. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: Climate change will continue to have a negative impact on agriculture, and every year about 12 million hectares of land is degraded because of drought and desertification, said a new report released on Thursday.

It added that global agriculture accounts for a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, and climate-ready crops that are water-efficient are key to feeding the growing population.

The Global Food Policy Report 2016 by the International Food Policy Research Institute also came down heavily on animal protein rich Western diets, which it said were unsustainable and impacting the environment.

Adding one American to the global population requires an additional hectare of land to feed the person, about the size of a world cup football field, and this also pumps out an additional 16.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year—similar to driving from New York to Los Angeles and back, seven times, the report observed.

Worldwide, the report said, the number of overweight people is 2.5 times more than the number of undernourished.

“Urbanization, increasing incomes, and higher demand for animal protein is changing diets in developing countries,” the report said adding, “beef consumption is one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally impactful foods to produce.”

Beef production requires four times more land than cattle for every unit of protein, and beef is seven times more resource-intensive than pork and poultry, and 20 times more than pulses, the report said.

Measuring food loss and waste is difficult but 27-32% of food produced never makes it to the table, the report said, adding, while in developing countries most food is lost at the production level, in developed countries, most food is wasted at the retail and consumer level.

On irrigation, the report highlighted that 85% of global water use goes for farming, and innovations in climate-ready crops is the way out. “Rice is the staple food of more than half of the world’s population and C4 rice, for example, can double water use efficiency and increase yields by almost 50%,” it said.

Unless significant changes are made in global water consumption, most people will live under severe water shortage conditions by 2050, the report warned.

In its regional analysis, the report said that hunger and malnutrition are severe problems facing many countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

In contrast, the report said that South Asia benefited from rapid economic growth in 2015. “Poverty and hunger have fallen in the region but remain high,” it said.

Further, the report praised food policy advances made by South Asian countries: a new nutrition policy in Bangladesh, a new sanitation programme and an irrigation program in India, and programmes to improve farmers’ inputs in India and Pakistan.

“India launched a new sanitation program— Clean India Mission—in 4,041 towns, to clean the streets, roads, and infrastructure, in order to address unhygienic conditions that are linked to disease and constrain improvements in nutrition and health outcomes,” the report said.

Noting that small farmers have limited capacity to adapt to climate shocks, the report said that when the monsoon arrived late in India (in 2011), small farmers with fewer assets, higher risk aversion, and less access to irrigation and weather information were less able to respond effectively to the delay than farmers with greater assets.

However, the report added that in recent years, more than 30 million small farmers have adopted weather-indexed insurance, enabling some of them to shift toward more profitable farm production systems that may incur higher risk.

The report also warned that groundwater depletion is reaching critical levels in large food-producing areas, particularly in parts of China, India, Pakistan, and the US.

The report lauded India’s flagship irrigation programme (launched last year) with a planned outlay of Rs.500 billion over the next five years.

“The scheme targets 50 million hectares and is expected to improve agricultural productivity, reduce risk, and enhance drought resilience,” the report said.

The report also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to provide universal access to bank accounts—the Jan Dhan Yojana—and said it is a prerequisite for direct cash transfers for food and fuel to targeted beneficiaries, and is expected to reduce public expenditure.