Podcast: Feeding the world

To end global hunger, we must look outside the box

Asit K Biswas, Martyn Pearce

Development, Environment & energy, Government and governance, Food & water | Australia, Asia, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, The Pacific, The World

27 April 2018

On the latest Policy Forum Pod, one of the world’s leading water and environment experts provides his short answer to a very big question: how can we create a world without hunger?

Of the world’s population of more than 7.3 billion people, almost 900 million go to bed hungry. By 2050, there will be at least 2 billion extra mouths to feed. How can we step up our efforts to end world hunger, while also ensuring we’re ready for the food challenges of the 21st century? On the latest podcast, Asit K Biswas explains why experts and policymakers must look outside the box on food security. Listen here: http://bit.ly/PFPhunger

Professor Asit Biswas is one of the world’s leading authorities on water and environmental management. He is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School for Public Policy in Singapore.

Even before taking population growth into account, the world already struggles to put food on the table for everyone, Biswas explains.

“One in nine people goes to bed hungry. Surprisingly, between 2016 and 2017, the number of hungry people, instead of declining as we have seen the decade before, the number has actually started going up.

“We should also consider some other constraints. First, the amount of land that can be brought under cultivation or irrigation is very limited. There’s no way we can have enough land available now which could be used for agriculture.

“Second, even if the land is available, which it is not, we don’t have enough water… the quality of water is becoming worse and worse with time, and we cannot continue irrigating with poor quality water.”

This means that experts and policymakers must look outside the box if the world is to produce enough food for everyone by 2050, Biswas says. One way is to start moving away from ‘horizontal expansion’ – using more land and more water – and instead, start focusing on ‘vertical expansion’.

“Let’s take two Asian countries: India and China. If we can increase India’s yield per hectare to that of China – forget that of the United States and Japan – India’s food production can be doubled.

“There’s no reason why India cannot double its food production by 2030, to the same level of yield as in China. It’s doable – eminently doable.”

If the challenge is to increase food productivity without consuming more resources, then ultimately the world will need to turn to technological solutions.

And unlike the food revolutions of the past, which occurred in the laboratories of governments and research institutions, the majority of today’s innovation is happening in the private sector, as Biswas explains.

“The private sector is now well ahead of most of the public research institutions. They’re spending hundreds of millions of dollar to develop new varieties of seeds which could grow under drought conditions, seeds which could grow under saline water, and seeds which could survive under flood water.

“Because of scientific and technological developments, we will have the same amount of land, same amount of water, but we can have significantly larger production of food.”

The food challenges of the 21st century will need fresh thinking from experts and policymakers, on everything from food wastage to obesity.

“We as water experts will create an important role, but not as we think ourselves – that food production depends only on water and land,” Biswas says. “That is a mindset we will have to discard in the near future.”

Policy Forum Pod is available on SpotifyiTunesStitcher, and wherever you get your podcasts. Got feedback for us on this pod? Email podcast@policyforum.net, tweet us @APPSPolicyForum or find us on Facebook.

This episode of the pod was produced by Martyn Pearce and edited by Tess Harwood. This blog post was written by Nicky Lovegrove.

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