The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has disclosed that up to 60 per cent of all the land in the world may soon become degraded unless urgent steps are taken to ensure sustainable management of land across the world.
The United Nations (UN) agency stressed that land users around the world must understand that this resource is vital for the continued support of flora, fauna and human life and as such must treat it as a finite material.
"More than 20 per cent of all cultivated land, 30 per cent of forests and 10 per cent of grasslands are under degradation," FAO, headed by the Director-General, Jose Graziano da Silva, stated.
Stressing that the global food system has profound implications for the environment, and producing more food than is consumed only exacerbates the pressures, the agency added that globally, nine per cent of the freshwater resources are withdrawn, 70 per cent of this by irrigated agriculture; while agriculture and land use changes like deforestation contribute to more than 30 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the global food body, across the world, the agri-food system accounts for nearly 30 per cent of end-user available energy while overfishing and poor management contribute to declining numbers of fish with some 30 per cent of marine fish stocks now considered overexploited.
FAO had earlier announced that worldwide, about one-third of all food produced, worth around $1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems, according to data released by FAO. Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages - harvesting, processing and distribution - while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain.
"In a world of seven billion people, set to grow to nine billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense - economically, environmentally and ethically," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
"Aside from the cost implications, all the land, water, fertilisers and labour needed to grow that food is wasted - not to mention the generation of greenhouse gas emissions produced by food decomposing on landfill and the transport of food that is ultimately thrown away," he added. "To bring about the vision of a truly sustainable world, we need a transformation in the way we produce and consume our natural resources."
"Together, we can reverse this unacceptable trend and improve lives. In industrialised regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption," said Graziano da Silva. "This is more than the total net food production of sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world."
"If we can help food producers to reduce losses through better harvesting, processing, storage, transport and marketing methods, and combine this with profound and lasting changes in the way people consume food, then we can have a healthier and hunger-free world," he added.
Part of the trigger for the campaign was the outcome of the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012, in which Heads of State and governments gave the go-ahead for a 10-Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Patterns.
Developing an SCP programme for the food sector must be a vital element of this framework, given the need to sustain the world's food production base, reduce associated environmental impacts, and feed a growing human population.