Last week in Rome, world leaders came together to discuss the current food crisis and an agenda for action at the World Summit for Food Security. This summit represented an opportunity to highlight what is happening in the global dialogue on food security and concerns about how to feed growing, and increasingly wealthy, global populations without eroding nature’s ability to provide ecosystems services that are vital to agriculture and human well-being.
Just prior to the summit, a study came out entitled, “Eating the Planet: Feeding and fueling the world sustainably, fairly and humanely-scoping study”1. The study argues that, “while modern agricultural technologies have resulted in rapid increases in yields and efficiencies; they have also caused significant and widespread negative environmental effects.” This research explores many inter-related issues—including different agricultural development models, diet scenarios, and bio-energy pathways—while also considering the uncertainty associated with climate change and population growth.
The largest areas available for crop land expansion occur in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. The study states that there is a high degree of uncertainty and dispute regarding how well-suited much of this area is for large-scale, intensive agriculture. Tropical soils have the potential to lose fertility rapidly if poorly managed, and they are highly vulnerable to climate change. The paper argues that the introduction of agro-ecological measures in low-income tropical countries with poor soils has especially high potential to greatly improve yields.
CI is very interested in studies of this nature as they directly relate to our new Food Security Program. CI believes we must consider the role of our natural ecosystems in solving global challenges like food security. It is not an either-or situation: we must feed growing populations, but we will not be successful if we ignore the role of nature in meeting this challenge. Healthy ecosystems provide many services that are vital for producing the food we need, including clean water, nutrients, climate stabilization, pollinators and more.
As a part of our food security strategy, we are focused on working with local communities to implement sustainable farming strategies and improve access to markets and payments for ecosystem services, along with mitigating and adapting to climate change. This study represents food for thought—for political leaders that discussed these issues at the World Summit for Food Security, and for us, as we think about how we can contribute to food security and other global challenges. Agriculture will continue to take different forms in different parts of the world, and we will continue to seek agricultural systems that optimize food production with protection of environmental services and well-being of farmers and communities. It is encouraging that the study’s authors concluded that we can feed a growing world without clearing additional forested lands around the world. We hope they are right – our future depends on it.
Bemmy Granados works in the Food and Livelihood Security Program at Conservation International.
 The research for this study was undertaken by researchers at The Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen Adria Universität Klagenfurt, Vienna, Austria, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.