EXPO: Agricultural production tripled but 800 M still live in hunger


In the last fifty years the global agricultural system has succeeded in almost tripling food production.

Per capita food availability has increased from 2189 kcal/day to 2831 kcal/day, in spite of the fact that the world population has doubled, reaching seven billion people, expected to top nine billion by 2050. “This will put to the test the ability of the agricultural system to feed hundreds of millions of human beings – Andrea Sonnino, ENEA expert and member of the UNEP Task Force preparing the sixth Global Environmental Outlook, says – particularly in developing countries where the majority of undernourished people live (around 98%)”.

According to a study presented by Sonnino at the one day seminar held for the press on the EXPO topics, organized by ENEA with the Latium Order of Journalists, since the beginning of the nineties the number of people living in hunger has decreased by 209 million, from 18.6% to 11.3% of the world population and from 23.2% to 13.5% in developing countries.

“Food insecurity has been reduced but not eradicated: although food availability is currently more than enough to feed the world population, almost 805 million people – more than one out of nine – suffered from chronic malnutrition in the years 2012-2014” the expert points out.

Average food availability, although theoretically exceeding the average dietary energy requirement, is albeit unevenly distributed. At the same time, in addition to hunger there are other worrying factors: malnutrition, in the form of nutrients deficiency, such as iodine, vitamin A or iron deficiency, affecting around two million people, and overnutrition, affecting an estimated 1.4 million people considered overweight, and 500 million considered obese.

“The nutritional issues are multiple and often interdependent, overlapping in vast geographical areas, representing a challenge to be addressed through an integrated approach. “ Sonnino says.

Another issue to be tackled is the progressive urbanization of the world population and the increase in consumption linked to an amelioration in the economic situation, determining also a “revolution in food consumption patterns and in the diets of millions of people”.

The combination of these factors is causing a rise in global demand for food to levels never reached before: FAO forecasts an estimated 60 % global growth by 2050, with peaks of 100 % in developing countries.

“It is necessary to increase food production without environmental impact and without cultivating additional land – Sonnino points out - also through a sustainable use of energy in agriculture”, promoting a rational use of energy, increasing food production, optimizing the exploitation of natural resources – water, soil, energy. Technology innovation will play a key-role in facing this challenge, to limit the pressure on natural resources and intensify agriculture output in a sustainable manner.

“The global agricultural productive system is able to meet global demand for food, but the consumption rate of the natural resources it exploits - land, soil, water and biodiversity - exceeds their natural regeneration capacity, and therefore is not sustainable in the long term” Sonnino explains.

“It is necessary to reduce food loss and waste along the supply chain, adopting diets commensurate with consumption, reducing consumption of products of animal origin and agricultural products for non-food use such as biofuels” the expert adds. An additional factor is an increase in food production through a sustainable and rational use of energy in agriculture.

The study concludes: The food security challenge can be addressed only by taking action on the three main environmental impacts of the current productive systems. Protecting the ecosystems threatened by the expansion of the agricultural frontier, fighting climate change due to the overexploitation of land and the erosion of forest genetic resources, reducing freshwater consumption.

This can happen only through the implementation of good farming practices leading to a better efficiency of the productive system, promoting its sustainability and including nonmaterial factors such as knowledge, support and education. “To overcome the challenge of sustainable nutrition it’s necessary to provide small farmers with access to knowledge and technologies, set up associations and cooperatives and promote gender equality”. ENEA is actively engaged in developing those themes and will bring them to EXPO Milano 2015.


For more information please contact:

Andrea Sonnino, Technical Unit for Sustainable Development and Agro-industrial Innovation, Casaccia Research Centre, andrea.sonnino@enea.it

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