Every minute the world loses 23 hectares of arable land, yet every day there are 160,000 more mouths to feed.
We take for granted an abundance of affordable produce year-round, but it comes at high cost to wildlife and soil due to high-intensity agricultural practices.
We must secure and increase yields in a sustainable way if we are to supply enough food to feed the world.
The death toll associated with antimicrobial resistance could reach 10 million a year by 2050: more than cancer and diabetes combined.
Antibiotics – once highly effective at treating infections caused by bacteria, parasites, and fungi increasingly fail to kill these microbes due to over-use.
New and deadly viral infections are emerging that require rapid responses to develop cures. The recent COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates this vulnerability.
Environmental degradation allows new pests and diseases to appear and old ones to re-emerge in food-growing regions, putting 40% of global crop yields at risk.
We must fight this threat while dramatically decreasing the carbon footprint of food production, which is responsible for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
We must transform our entire agricultural system to increase resilience to this threat.
Feeding the world: Food security and sustainable agriculture
Population increases lead to a higher demand for food, while consumer demand forces commercial crop and food growers to yield a greater variety of produce at affordable prices. The result is high-intensity agricultural practices, which degrade soil health and jeopardise the success of future growth.
A changing environment is also bringing new types of pests and diseases. When left unchecked, these can result in decreases of crop yields of up to 40%. Current projections suggest that there will be 2.1 billion more mouths to feed by 2050, and developing disease-resistant crops will be a key part of sustainably feeding them.
Simply put, we are not currently able to produce food with a sufficiently high level of nutrients, or with a sufficient yield to fulfil future needs. Urgent action is required to improve the sustainability of agriculture, and to protect plants from a growing threat of pests and diseases.
Plants are just as susceptible to pathogens as humans are, and recent events have shown we lack resilience in the face of emerging diseases. A global pandemic affecting one major food crop would be no less devastating than COVID-19 in terms of its humanitarian consequence.
Food requirements in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to triple by 2050 as a result of population growth
Human health risks: Antimicrobial resistance and viral pandemics
Antibiotics that were once highly effective at treating infections caused by bacteria, parasites and fungi are increasingly failing to kill the microbes they were designed to combat. The over-use of antibiotics has led to a widespread risk of ill-health or death that was previously preventable.
Globally, it is predicted that deaths arising from antimicrobial resistance will reach 10 million a year by 2050. This would represent a higher death toll than cancer and diabetes combined.
The financial incentive for the private sector to develop new antibiotics is limited given the high costs of research and development and the likely limited lifetime of efficacy of any product.
The wider economic and health costs of antimicrobial resistance represent a public threat that is too large to ignore and cannot be considered the sole responsibility of the private sector. We must put in place a public sector delivery pipeline that takes account of these risks.
There is a significant gap between the level of research going into discovering new and effective antibiotics and the inputs required to discover and synthesise new solutions. We must close the gap between urgent public health needs and private sector constraints.
Climate change and disruptions to food supply
The climate emergency has the capacity to cause widespread disruption to global food supplies.
Flooding is as high a risk as drought when climate cycles change, and this volatility is having an increasingly damaging impact on our ability to create a sustainable supply of food for a growing global population. This risk of flooding is coupled with the additional threat of higher temperatures and the impact they have on the fertility and therefore yields of the world’s major crops.
It is an irony that industrialised agriculture itself is a significant cause of the climate crisis that is putting food availability at risk. Huge quantities of fossil fuels used in the production of fertilisers, coupled with environmental degradation.
A growing world population requires an ever-increasing volume of food to sustain it. Every day, there are over 160,000 additional mouths to feed, with a decreasing area of arable land available for growing the food required to do so.
Beyond the material impact these emissions will have on the long-term health of the environment, the gasses emitted represents a significant hurdle to achieving net-zero targets.
Current practices and products are also heavily reliant on non-renewable resources. The global, natural supply of rock phosphate which forms the basis of many agricultural fertilisers will be completely depleted within 200 years.
The challenge is twofold: plants and crops must be developed that are resilient to environmental fluctuations, while agricultural practices and technologies must be developed to reduce the sector’s contribution to the problem.