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Cambridge Global Food Security

A Strategic Research Initiative of the University of Cambridge

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Global Food Security to 2050

When May 14, 2015
from 02:00 PM to 06:00 PM
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Hughes Hall, Pavilion Room, Wollaston Road, Cambridge CB1 2EW

The seminar is being organised by Tropical Agriculture Association (TAA) East Anglia Branch and the Cambridge Humanitarian Centre, in collaboration with CambPlants, Cambridge Conservation Forum (CCF) and the University's Global Food Security strategic initiative (GFS). The theme will be ‘Assuring food security to 2050, including implications for climate change and biodiversity loss’. Two presentations will be made: (a) Dr Bojana Bazjelj (Cambridge University Engineering Dept) on managing the demand side and (b) Prof Amir Kassam (TAA member, University of Reading & UN Food & Agriculture Organisation - FAO) and Dr Gottlieb Basch (University of Evora, Portugal) on ensuring sustainable agriculture from the supply side. Abstracts of the presentations are given below.

To reserve a place at the seminar, please go to Eventbrite.

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Proposed Programme:

14.00 Tea/Coffee

14.10 Introduction by Keith Virgo (TAA) and by the Humanitarian Centre

14.20 Introductions by CambPlants, GFS, & CCF

14.30 Presentation 1. by Dr Bojana Bazjelja

15.15 Discussion

15.45 Coffee/Tea

16.00 Presentation 2. by Prof Amir Kassam & Dr Gottlieb Basch

16.45 Discussion

17.15 Tea/coffee/snacks and networking

18.00 Close


We suggest a donation of £5.00 upon entry to cover tea/coffee/snacks, with balance to be given to the TAA's Tropical Agriculture Award Fund.


Presentation 1: Demand-side

The importance of shifting dietary preferences and addressing food waste for food security and sustainability.

Bojana Bajzelj

University of Cambridge, Engineering Department

Food demand is predicted to increase by 60% to 2050, and share of livestock products within global diets is predicted to continue increasing. The huge increase in food production has in past been met by both increasing yields and conversion of natural vegetation to give way to more agricultural area. One of key climate change mitigation and species conservation goals is to halt further deforestation, yet the recent patterns if yield growth and stagnation put the achievability of this goal into question.

In our recently published paper we examined different land-use scenarios by 2050, depending on yield improvements and increasing demand. If we maintain ‘business as usual’, then by 2050 global cropland will have expanded by 42% and GHG emissions from food productions by 80% over 2009 levels. We identified three imperatives for reducing these impacts: (1) closing gaps in crop yields, (2) cutting food waste and (3) limiting the consumption of overall calories, including those from meat and dairy, to the point which nutritional experts recommend on health grounds. Although yield gap closures appear optimistic, their implementation alone still showed a GHG increase of 42% by 2050. However by halving food waste and supposing the whole world enjoying balanced diets with moderated meat consumption, the model predicted a reduction in food GHG emission by a half, which is in line with necessary emissions reductions by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change.

Although the demand side options hold larger potential to improve agricultural footprint and deliver global food security, they to date received much less attention from policy makers and scientific community. This largely lies on presumption, that behaviour change in relation to food is impossible, and a no-go topic. However the belief that these challenges are insurmountable is untested. The fact that shifting dietary preferences on health grounds also brings considerable environmental and food security benefits, shows we should give more prominence to these options.


Presentation 2: Supply-side

Mobilizing greater crop and land potentials: replacing the faltering engine

Amir Kassam1 and Gottlieb Basch2

1University of Reading, UK; 2University of Evora, Portugal

The engine of the supply side of food security is the way we farm. The current engine of conventional farming method is faltering and needs to be replaced. This presentation will address supply side issues of agriculture to meet future food demands using the new paradigm of Conservation Agriculture (CA) (involving no-till farming with mulch soil cover and diversified cropping) that raises productivity sustainably and efficiently, reduces inputs, regenerates degraded land, minimises soil erosion and harnesses the flow of ecosystem services. CA is an ecosystem approach to farming and calls for a fundamental change from modern intensive tillage-based farming. It is capable of enhancing not only the economic and environmental performance of crop production, but also promotes a mindset change of producing ‘more from less’, the key attitude towards sustainable production intensification. CA is now spreading globally in all continents and covers some 157 Mha of arable cropland.

Today we produce enough food to feed three times the current population of 7.21 billion. In 1976, when the world population was 4.15 billion, world food production far exceeded the amount necessary to feed that population. However, our urban and industrialised, market capitalist, lifestyle leads to wastage of food of some 40%, as well as waste of enormous amount of energy and protein while transforming crop-based food into animal derived food; we have a higher proportion of people than ever before who are obese; and we continue to degrade our ecosystems including much of our agricultural land of which some 400 M ha is reported to be abandoned due to severe soil and land degradation. These are signs of unsustainability at the structural level in the society, and it is at the structural level, both supply side and demand side, that we need transformed mind sets about production, consumption and distribution.

The proximate cause of food insecurity and hunger, for the 2 billion currently, is poverty. CA not only provides the possibility of increased crop yields for the low input smallholder farmer, it also provides a pro-poor rural and agricultural development model to support agricultural intensification in an affordable manner. For the high output farmer, it offers greater efficiency (productivity) and profit, resilience and stewardship. For farming anywhere, it addresses the root causes of agricultural land degradation, sub-optimal ecological crop and land potentials or yield ceilings, and poor crop phenotypic expressions or yield gaps.

As national economies expand and diversify, more people become integrated into the economy and are able to access food. This growth in effective demand from non-agricultural populations is what drives the required increases in food production and food supply. Thus, wage employment pathway out of poverty and hunger will continue to be the main pathway for most non-agricultural population over time. But for those whose livelihoods continue to depend on agriculture to feed themselves and the rest of the world population, the challenge is to produce the needed food with minimum harm to the environment and the society, and to produce it with maximum efficiency and resilience against abiotic and biotic stresses, including those arising from climate change.

Given the current structural inefficiencies in the food production and consumption system, crop yields in the coming decades need to increase to cope with the growing food demand. There is empirical and scientific evidence that the future food supplies can be assured sustainably by shifting away from conventional agriculture towards a more sustainable paradigm of CA. The supply side of future food security will be determined by how successful we are in facilitating the global up-scaling of the new engine of sustainable agriculture: Conservation Agriculture.