Global food security champion Prof Tim Benton outlines farming challenges during Norwich lecture
12:32 24 October 2012
A senior agricultural advisor told a Norwich conference that arable areas like Norfolk must take a global view of their duties in helping to feed a burgeoning world population.
Prof Tim Benton, the UK’s champion for Global Food Security, was invited by the East of England Co-operative Society to give a public lecture at the Curve auditorium in the Forum last night.
He outlined the vast scale of the challenge, with the global population expected to increase to nine billion by 2050, with no more land available for agriculture and the global demand for food expected to rise by 70pc in the next 40 years.
Prof Benton said the difficulty of feeding these people sustainably was amplified by the impact of climate change threatening crop yields, regulatory pressures and increasing competition for land and water.
He said tough choices needed to be made in agricultural areas like East Anglia, where he argued that areas of intensively-farmed land could be managed alongside non-cropped plots to allow maximum food production while maintaining the environment for wildlife. But he said the admirable ideals of growing organic produce and sourcing food locally would only reduce yields from productive land, and “export” the ecological impact to poorer countries.
Prof Benton said: “In so many dimensions, we are heading for a breakdown in global systems and the costs, particularly in the developing world, will be too much to bear.
“The idea of becoming self-sufficient as a local society is not a viable end-point. I would love to live in a pristine world where we had organic food and slow-grown animals who live a happy life. But we cannot have everything we want.”
Prof Benton said while it is important to reduce food wastage, stop over-consumption and re-think our “risk-aversion” regarding pesticides and genetically-modified (GM) foods, the complete solution must include the “sustainable intensification” of farming.
For more on this story, see the Farm and Country section in Saturday’s EDP.