Study offers strategies for addressing hunger through sustainable agriculture

By Brooks Hays
New research offers strategies for addressing hunger without expanding agriculture and further taxing Earth's climate and natural resources. Photo by Pxhere
New research offers strategies for addressing hunger without expanding agriculture and further taxing Earth's climate and natural resources. Photo by Pxhere

Sept. 11 (UPI) -- A new study has offered several strategies for ending hunger without expanding agriculture, releasing additional CO2 or putting more stress on the planet's resources.

An estimated 821 million people were undernourished in 2017, and by 2050, there will be an estimated two billion more people to feed. One way to meet growing demands for food is to expand production, but the expanse of industrial farming is carbon intensive.


According to the United Nations, commercial farming is responsible for between 14 percent and 18 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. When the agricultural industry grows, carbon-storing forests are often cleared to make room for new farms.

Several reports have highlighted the necessity of changing diets, shifting land-use patterns and shrinking the carbon footprint of industrial agriculture in order to slow global warming.

So how does one reduce or end hunger without expanding agriculture.

In a study published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability, researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria, suggest the key is reducing the inequalities in access to food.

In their paper, scientists detailed several strategies for reducing said inequities. One strategy would involve reducing the nutrition gap of undernourished population through government programs.


"Such a strategy would include food and nutrition programs that provide food in-kind transfers, school-feeding programs, vouchers for food, income support programs, and safety-nets, without the need to wait for economic growth," researchers wrote in a news release.

Researchers suggest this short-term strategy would help feed 480 million undernourished people by 2030, and would necessitate only a 3 percent expansion of agriculture.

"This paper demonstrates that providing enough food to the undernourished requires an only marginal increase in overall agricultural production and thus also has very limited trade-offs with the environment," said study co-author Petr Havlik, a researcher at IIASA. "Undernourishment is indeed not a problem of agricultural production capacity but of the current economic and political system. This means that there are no good excuses not to tackle it."

By contrast, if governments rely on economic growth alone to address undernourishment, it would require several additional decades and a 21 percent increase in food production.

The analysis also showed that when more equitable food distribution is coupled with efforts to curb over-consumption, food waste, agricultural intensification and other environmental problems, governments can address hunger while reducing agricultural production.

"The required amount of food for hunger eradication and the negative impacts on the environment are much reduced by combining hunger eradication with improved equity in food distribution such as reduced food waste and over-consumption, together with agricultural research and development to increase crop yields in developing regions," said Tomoko Hasegawa, a researcher at IIASA and lead author of the study. "Our research shows that to achieve multiple goals, only one policy is not enough. We need to combine different policies to avoid unintended negative impacts on others."


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