Food sustainability: Key resources

Key resources SPOTLIGHT
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From contentious hunger estimates to trends in agriculture, Zareen Pervez Bharucha outlines a range of resources.

Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity

The website of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is a key resource and offers access to several reports on hunger and malnutrition. Their most recent report, 'State of Food Insecurity in the World' (2013), produced with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), presents up-to-date global estimates of the numbers of hungry and malnourished people, and discusses the role of economic growth in reducing undernourishment. Present and past editions of the report are available here.

These are invaluable resources, but 'counting the hungry' is a contentious business — definitions and priorities are far from universal. A critique of recent hunger estimates can be found in this policy brief by hunger and poverty expert Frances Moore Lappé and others.

The FAO's Hunger Portal contains statistics on hunger and malnutrition, with drop-down menus that provide access to hunger statistics sorted by country and year. The hunger section of the WFP's website contains resources on world hunger, including a guide to its causes, an overview of solutions and an interactive 'hunger map'.

A compilation of papers by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) examines the policies, programmes and investments that have helped to reduce hunger in the developing world.

Food security data are also available from this section of the FAO website, which includes information on food security indicators, global monitoring of FAO's hunger targets and on country-specific food systems. It also contains a list of working papers on the measurement and monitoring of food security and undernourishment.

Other useful resources include:
WorldHunger.org is an online publication of the World Hunger Education Service. This page contains annotated links to resources on agriculture, the environment, natural resource management, food and nutrition.
> The Right to Food section of the FAO's website includes news about progress towards implementing such a right, as well as links to publications and a 'knowledge centre' that includes learning resources.
> The website of the UN special rapporteur on the right to food includes information about various aspects of food security, including the right to food, and lists useful documents such as official reports and briefing documents.
> The FAO's Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is an intergovernmental body that reviews and follows up on policies for food and nutritional security. The site includes information on the committee's activities and on events on food security and nutrition from around the world. 
> The website of the Global Food Security Programme, which brings together the UK's public sector funders of food-related research, includes useful documents, news and policy information.

World agriculture

A number of reports and peer-reviewed papers discuss current trends and prospects for global agriculture.

The FAO's annual State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) reports profile important developments in global food and agriculture through science-based assessments.

The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013–2022, available here, discusses prospects for agricultural growth and commodity prices over the next decade. And this paper provides an overview of the 100 most important questions for the future of global agriculture.

In 2011, the UK government's Foresight Programme produced a report on global food and farming futures, accompanied by a number of separate reports on food security, hunger and the state of global agrifood systems. All the documents are available here.

This paper examines the global yields of four key crops — rice, wheat, maize and soybean — and finds that production is growing too slowly to meet the demands expected by 2050. The paper includes sections on regional trends, providing valuable context against which to examine questions of agricultural productivity and food security.

The African Agriculture Status Report 2013, produced by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), focuses on the status and trends for key staple crops on the continent. And the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean coproduced this report on the outlook for agriculture and rural development in the Americas, focusing on land tenure issues.  This report, produced by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, provides an overview of food security and sustainable agriculture in the region.

Boosting productivity

Through the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) process, the UN Environment Programme has evaluated the status, relevance and effectiveness of agricultural knowledge, science and technology through a three-year collaborative effort involving 900 participants from 110 countries. The result was a number of reports and regional summaries, including briefs on key issues.

A key finding was that agroecological approaches hold great potential for increasing yields while also conserving resources. A key piece of evidence is this paper by professor of environment and society Jules Pretty and others, that analyses the potential of resource-conserving technologies to increase yields in developing countries.

And a special issue of the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, produced in 2011, contains freely accessible papers reporting on cases of sustainable intensification in African agriculture.

The environment and resources

This paper by global sustainability expert Johan Rockström and others provides an important and oft-cited overview of the state of the planet's key life-supporting systems, such as biodiversity, providing a context against which current and future agrifood systems will need to operate. This page contains information on the Planetary Boundaries concept as well as related publications.

In the report The State of the Worlds' Land and Water Resources, the FAO identifies areas of concern and reviews options for better management of these resources. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works to improve resource management and human development in the world's drylands, provides links to key publications on desertification and dryland and water resources.

Biodiversity is vital for social-ecological wellbeing, and modern agriculture is a key driver in both biodiversity loss and conservation. In this summary, the UK Agricultural Biodiversity Coalition defines agricultural biodiversity, describes its status and outlines reasons behind its decline. The website of the Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research (PAR), which seeks to improve knowledge on agricultural biodiversity, contains relevant news and updates, as well as a resources section.

This FAO sourcebook on 'climate-smart' agriculture provides an overview of the challenges that climate change poses to agriculture, and the need for climate-smart agriculture. This report from the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) details technological options for climate-change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture for developing countries. And the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) works in East and West Africa, Latin America and South and South-East Asia to address issues that span both climate change and agriculture.

Approaches to agricultural development 

Improvements in crop varieties can boost yields, nutritional value and tolerance to environmental stresses and pests. Several centres and initiatives are working to produce improved varieties. They include projects run by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the African Orphan Crops Consortium and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

A recent book, edited by David Bennett and Richard Jennings, reviews the development and implementation of plant genetic sciences in emerging economies. And a 2013 article by environmental sciences professor Sven-Erik Jacobsen and others reviews the potential of developing genetically modified crops while protecting agricultural biodiversity.

For agroecological approaches to agricultural development, a list of organisations conducting research and teaching, along with sources of funding and career opportunities, is available here.

Information on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) can be found via this webpage of Cornell University's SRI International Network and Resources Center (SRI-Rice).

Information on conservation agriculture can be found on this website, maintained by the FAO, which includes links to publications and information on principles and practice.

This webpage of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) contains information on Push-Pull, an integrated pest-management system developed in Africa. The website of the World Agroforestry Centre provides information about research and development in agroforestry. 

Important international centres for agricultural research and development include the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) with its constituent agricultural research centres

This article is part of the Spotlight on Producing food sustainably.