Although 795 million people worldwide are still undernourished, global hunger has been steadily declining in recent years. This is due to a combination of factors, such as social protection programs, agricultural development measures, and inclusive economic growth in developing nations. So far, 72 countries have reached the Millenium Development Goal target of halving the hungry population by 2015. However, completely eliminating global hunger will be difficult with the looming threat of climate change.

Climate change has already begun affecting food production, and could increase the risk of hunger by 20 percent by 2050. The world has seen an increase in the number and intensity of both floods and droughts, which can destroy crops and necessary infrastructure. Rising sea levels can render land unsuitable for growing crops, and glacial melt can affect water quality. Higher temperatures, along with too much or too little rainfall, can decrease both the quality and quantity of crops.

The decrease in food production caused by climate change disproportionately affects those living in poverty. With less food being produced, prices will spike, meaning that many will be unable to afford to feed themselves and their families. It is time to focus on environmentally friendly methods of maintaining or increasing current levels of food production in order to continue effectively fighting world hunger.

Quality soil is the foundation for successful agricultural systems and food security. It is resilient to flood and drought, and its stores of carbon contribute to climate change mitigation. However, many do not recognize that soil is a non-renewable resource, and therefore do not understand the need for sustainable soil management.

Soil degradation is caused by unsustainable land use practices and climate extremes, and negatively impacts food security. A 60 percent increase in demand for food is expected by 2050, but with 25 percent of usable soil highly degraded and 44 percent moderately degraded, it will be difficult to keep up this level of production without intervention. Sustainable soil management needs to be prioritized on global development agendas.

There is still progress to be made in ending world hunger, and focusing on sustainable soil management can help to feed more of the world’s population. Governments need to recognize the issue of soil degradation and invest in appropriate land management projects. They also need to effectively regulate contaminants that impact soil quality, while focusing specifically on protecting organic, carbon-rich soils such as peatlands and permafrost. Systems and technologies that can produce more food using less soil will be especially important. Feeding the world’s people in the face of climate change requires a close look at the most basic requirement of food production: quality soil.

Jane Harkness

Sources: FAO, WFP 1, WFP2
Photo: Flickr