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Can we save nature and still feed the world?

Food production vs. ecosystem survival

UNEP's 2014 report on global land use warns that natural land covering an area 35 times larger than the UK may have to be converted to grow crops by 2050 unless we change consumption and farming practices. The increasing demand for meat rich diets, biofuels and fibres will put pressure on wild land to be 'grabbed' for agricultural production, with a consequent impact on biodiversity and soil quality.

The United Nations Environment Programme's Acme Steiner points out that "the world has witnessed a sharp decline in terrestrial ecosystems services and functions during the past decades. Forests and wetlands have been converted to agricultural land but at a cost that is not sustainable". Currently 40% of the world's land is given over to agricultural activities and cropland. By 2050 a further 849 million hectares of wild land may have to be sacrificed unless land management improves, degraded soils are restored (23% of the world's soils are already degraded) and crop yields are boosted.

The report's recommendations to help avoid this include: ending subsidies for biofuels, taking action to prevent food waste, encouraging vegetarian diets, and improving land monitoring and planning processes to better protect high-value natural habitats.

Interestingly UNEP suggest a target food footprint to protect ecosystems of no more than 0.2 hectares per person in 2030. this could be a challenge: in 2007 the food footprint of an EU citizen was already 0.3 hectares.

I have talked in other posts of the natural services that ecosystems provide, and the non-quantifiable benefits that nature brings to us. We also have responsibilities to other species on this planet while we appear to be its current custodians. Yes our bodies need to be fed but nature, for most people, provides important and irreplaceable soul food.

This is just one of the stories from my environmental talks

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