3.1 Population growth
3.2 The growing demand for food and fibre
3.3 The challenges to reduce poverty
3.4 Resource depletion and degradation
3.5 Challenges to sustainable forestry
3.6 Challenges to sustainable fisheries
3.7 The challenge in developing human capital
For thousands of years, agriculture, including forestry and fishing, has provided the food and other materials necessary for human survival and well being. Yet today, as we have seen, there is growing concern about the capacity of agriculture to meet the needs of future generations. The challenge to SARD comes from population growth, the increasing demand for food, the need to reduce poverty, and the threat to agricultural resources of land, water, and living things.
By the year 2000, world population is expected to be about 6.25 thousand million, compared with 3.0 thousand million in 1960. About 80 per cent of the year 2000 population will live in the less developed regions. While the global rate of population growth has slowed to less than 1.7 per cent annually, the absolute increase, of nearly 100 million annually is more than it has ever been. Even if birth rates are brought down relatively quickly, the high proportion of young people in those countries where population growth is still high means that the momentum for growth will continue at least until the middle of the next century.
The rates of population growth are very uneven, with most industrialized countries experiencing close to zero rates of natural increase, and most of the growth coming in the less developed countries. In some parts of the world, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa, population growth has tended to outstrip growth in food production. It is in just these less developed parts of the world that future food production needs to be increased more rapidly in order to improve food security, especially for the poor.
Global demand for food is likely at least to double by 2030. Most of this increase will occur in the less developed countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. This concentration in part reflects the rapid population growth in these areas. It also reflects, all being well, desirable improvements in the quantity and quality of food consumed per head as incomes rise (McCalla 1994). In sub-Saharan Africa, to feed the increasing numbers and to reduce presently unacceptable levels of food insecurity require a more than tripling of agricultural production by 2025 from a 1990 base (Crosson and Anderson 1995a, 2-4).
In addition to the population growth, changes will occur in the pattern of demand. In many of the newly industrializing countries, and in those less developed countries that have been successful in promoting economic growth, rising incomes are likely to lead to significant increases in demand for meat and other animal products (including fish). Such changes in demand for animal protein are unlikely to be fully or even mainly met from livestock grazed on land not suited for cropping. They therefore imply an increased demand for grain to be used as feed for intensively kept livestock and farmed fish. To produce one kilogram of human food as intensively reared animal protein takes several kilograms of grain or other stockfeed. If there is not a compensating increase in grain production, the diversion of these feeds to animal production is likely to drive up prices, reducing the access of the poor to staple foods.
The increased food production to meet the expanded demand will have to come mostly from increased yields. The reason is that there is little new land to be brought into production, and agricultural land is being lost to urban development, degradation and for other reasons. During the 1970s and 1980s, arable and permanent crop area per capita fell from 0.37 ha to 0.27 ha for the world as a whole. The fall in the less developed countries was sharper from 0.27 ha to 0.19 ha (Petty 1995a, 1.3-1.4). These trends in arable area are likely to continue. They mean that the projected doubling in the demand for food by 2030 will be met only if yields per hectare are more than doubled.
At best, this is a daunting challenge. There are some who suggest that it is not attainable, or at least, not without seriously damaging consequences for the environment as a result of the required increases in agricultural intensity based on increased use of chemical inputs.
According to IFPRI (1995, p. 10), over 1.1 thousand million people in the developing world live in absolute poverty, with incomes per person of a dollar a day or less. Moreover, IFPRI (p. 8) estimates that about 800 million of these, or one in five of the population of the developing world, lack the economic and physical access to the food required to lead healthy and productive lives.
There is an urgent challenge to agricultural policy makers to find ways of reducing the scale of this deprivation, above all for humanitarian reasons. In addition, failure to tackle the problem quickly and effectively is likely to mean that the rural poor will be driven to migrate to the cities in search of livelihood. The swelling slums that surround many of the major urban centres in less developed countries present their own threats to the sustainability of social and political systems.
Poverty persists because people lack entitlements that they can use to earn an acceptable living. They may have no access to land, or to water to irrigate arid land, or to technologies appropriate to their needs and circumstances, or to markets that offer reasonable prices for what they can produce, or to employment opportunities that offer a reasonable reward for their labour. These problems of lack of entitlement are not easy to solve, yet finding solutions is fundamental to the pursuit of SARD. Unless policies for SARD lead to a reduction in poverty, they cannot be regarded as successful.
At least in some situations, there is a vicious circle linking poverty and unsustainability. The poor may be driven by their very poverty to degrade resources in order simply to survive (von Braun 1992). Certainly, they are likely to lack the capital and access to credit to invest in resource improvements such as land conservation measures. Moreover, as the resource base declines, at least per person, the pressures on the poor that force them into unsustainable ways may increase. In such cases, policy makers need to find a means to break the downward spiral. For example, a solution might lie in the provision of a 'food for work' program, with the labour used for conservation measures. Yet too much should not be made of the contribution of the poor to resource degradation, since it is the rich who are the largest consumers of global resources such as energy. Moreover, the kinds of resource degradation caused by the rich (global warming, pesticide run-off) tend to be different from the damage done by the poor (deforestation, erosion). Clearly, attention needs to be given to ways of changing the behaviour of both rich and poor to address these different issues if sustainability is to be attained.
3.4.1 Land, water and the environment
3.4.2 Loss of animal and plant species
Hard data on degradation of land and water resources on a world scale are lacking. There is much concern, no doubt much of it well justified, about losses due to soil erosion, salinization or desertification. Yet in a recent review of a number of studies, Crosson and Anderson (1995b) note that the historical loss of productivity due to land degradation, although not unimportant, has been rather low relative to the productivity increase due to other factors. Even under rather pessimistic assumptions, they estimate that the annual average rate of productivity loss due to land degradation in the less developed countries has been less than 0.2 per cent a year over the past 45 years. There is also concern about competition for water between agricultural, industrial and urban uses and about declines in water quality for agricultural and other purposes. However, Crosson and Anderson further conclude that the average rate of productivity loss on irrigated land due to degradation of water resources for irrigation has been no more than 0.3 per cent a year over the past 30 years.
While the above rates are far from insignificant in the long run, they do suggest that the scope for attaining SARD is likely to lie mainly in expanding the use of knowledge-intensive inputs in agriculture, rather than in giving absolute priority to preventing land and water degradation, or to efforts made with too little regard to costs to reverse past unfavourable trends in quality of land and irrigation water resources.
The shift in technology required to produce more food and fibre from less land has thrown into doubt the capacity of the natural environment to absorb the resulting pollution and contamination. Environmentalists emphasize the role of the environment not only as a source of resources or inputs, such as land and water, used in production, but also as a sink to absorb unwanted by-products of production and consumption, and as a direct source of amenities. They are concerned that this absorptive capacity is being overloaded and will be much more seriously threatened if present methods of agricultural production are greatly intensified. Apart from the perceived risk of a breakdown in the life-sustaining ecosystem itself, there is the lesser but still serious threat to human health as more pollutants from intensification are released into the environment. The challenge, therefore, is to find more intensive methods of production that impose a lesser burden on the environment. Pretty (1995) has argued that there are resource-conserving technologies, local institutional structures and enabling external institutions that meet this challenge. The task for policy makers is to provide the conditions for such positive changes to occur.
The development and intensification of agriculture have led to loss of diversity in both domesticated and wild biological species, and the decline is continuing. In the past, humans have used well over 100 000 edible plant species and numerous animal species. Today, most of the world's population depends on only 12 crop species for their food staples. While the actual degree of concentration is overstated by these figures, in that many of the species used in the past were never very important, many scientists see the implied loss of diversity as worrying.
While some loss of biodiversity is unavoidable, and while there are certainly advantages from concentrating on the more productive species, there are grounds for anxiety that the decline may be socially and ecologically excessive. The erosion of the genetic resource base may mean the permanent loss of actually or potentially useful species or traits. Moreover, production systems are exposed to increased risks by relying on a narrow genetic base for domesticated species. SARD clearly requires that the downward trend in biodiversity be arrested.
Deforestation is occurring at a rapid rate in many parts of the world. According to the 1990 Forest Resources Assessment (FAO 1995c), the annual loss of tropical forests has been about 15.4 million ha, mostly in the less developed countries. Afforestation and reforestation in the tropics have been 1.8 million ha per year, representing only 12 per cent of deforestation.
In many of the less developed countries, deforestation is occurring as forest is cleared for farmland and rangeland to support growing human populations. The farming systems introduced on the cleared lands are not always sustainable.
While there has been an expansion of the temperate forest resource in the industrialized countries, the demand for forest products is expanding. There is also an increased demand for the services forests provide in protecting the land and water base, providing sustainable livelihoods for forest-dependent communities and conserving ecosystems and biodiversity (FAO 1993; 1994b).
Despite the rapid development of aquaculture, fishing remains largely a harvesting activity characterized by lack of property and user rights. The result is that many stocks and fishing areas are over-fished. According to one estimate, all the world's 17 main fishing grounds are being fished at or above their sustainable limits (O'Riordan, in FAO 1995b, 17-19). Some 70 per cent of the world's fish stocks have been classified as fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering from over-exploitation. Moreover, the functioning of these ecosystems and their capacity to recover from over-exploitation is uncertain. Management of fisheries is not easy and demands cooperation at several levels, from local to international. FAO has developed a Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The Code places emphasis on the adoption of selective and environmentally safe fishing practices designed to maintain biological diversity, and safeguard aquatic ecosystems.
Box 6. SUSTAINABILITY OF HUMAN CAPITAL
From Schuh and Archibald 1996, p, 22
As we look to future decades, the fundamental issue of sustainability may be associated with issues surrounding human capital. There are a number of important issues here. The first is that the easily added accretions to new knowledge may already be behind us. This is reflected in the increasing costs of research in universities and research institutes, especially in terms of the increasing costs of equipment and instrumentation. Second, in the case of biological research for agriculture, there is some evidence that an ever larger share of the total research budget must go just for maintenance purposes. In other words, an even larger share of the research budget has to go just to sustain the gains realized in the past as micro-organisms and insects develop resistance to past treatments. Finally, research is for the most part a pure service sector of the economy. It has traditionally been difficult to raise productivity in the delivery of pure services. This is another reason why costs of doing research, and of producing a given accretion to our stock of knowledge, may rise over time.
It is true that there have been improvements in the technology of doing research. The various components of biotechnology are an excellent example. Moreover, we know very little in a systematic way about the technology of doing research or about the costs of doing it. As the share of increases in output accounted for by investments in science and technology grows, these issues will become increasingly important in the sustainability debate,
Much of the discussion about SARD focuses on the physical resources used in agriculture. Yet it is clear that substantial increases in productivity will be needed to meet future demand for food. These increases must come from improved technologies, most of which will require large investments in education, research and technology development. The challenge, therefore, is to make sure that investments in these forms of human capital are sustained at the necessary rates. This challenge is critical because it seems that the easiest technological gains may have already been attained, so that a higher rate of investment will be needed in future than in the past to sustain the required rate of productivity increase (see Box 6).