LAND AND FOOD
By exploring the six regional visions in parallel, we can start to build a picture of global land and food use in 2050:
- How we balance different pressures on land use, such as food production, construction, and energy production
- How harnessing land resources and natural systems can provide resilience against the effects of climate change
- How we will grow, produce, trade, buy and eat food globally, and in different parts of the world
- What a just, sustainable future could look like – and what we need to do today to get there
Both land and food were key themes in the regions we explored as part of the project and were prominent discussion points in each of the workshops. In 2050, the relationship between land use and food production will be vital for achieving a net-zero, climate-resilient world. Land needs to be protected, restored and cultivated, while balancing economic, environmental and human needs - and local, national and international priorities. Land also needs to be managed in such a way as to produce enough food to support a decent standard of living across the world.
Restored coastal and marine ecosystems, including mangroves and sea grasses, will improve fish stocks and build resilience against extreme weather. Globally, land will be managed using a mixture of traditional practices and new technologies, unlocking a more considered and sustainable relationship with land resources. Workshop participants in developing countries were particularly focused on the protection of land and ecosystems rights from harmful industrial development practices. Attendees also highlighted the importance of developing and maintaining ecosystem services.
Our relationship with food will also be radically different in 2050. Newer farming techniques will complement traditional knowledge to build more transparent and equitable value chains. Greater resilience will come from the diversification of crop varieties, and the restoration of ecosystems will help protect the integrity of farmland. The way we eat will change, too, with climate impact becoming a key factor in people’s individual food choices. Government policy towards food will also be influenced by climate change.
Overlapping land uses
Prioritising between different land uses – including agriculture, energy generation, carbon capture, human development and biodiversity – is critical to building a sustainable future. The trade-offs between these uses is particularly acute in smaller states like Jamaica, or those where cultivable land is limited, like in the Arabian Peninsula.
However, these choices are not always so challenging, and co-benefits exist across many of these land uses. Agroecology is likely to become increasingly important as a way to balance food security and carbon sequestration. Agroecology involves a mixture of traditional farming practices and modern techniques, and could be particularly effective in countries like Brazil and Kenya where agricultural land uses can be in conflict with those for ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation.
In the Arabian Peninsula we have seen the emergence of innovations like aquaponics, and agrivoltaics, in which crops are grown inbetween solar power cells. Evaporating cooling helps the cells operate more efficiently, while crops benefit from more shade. This practice could become more commonplace in a net-zero, climate resilient 2050.
Technological innovation will play an important role in helping countries use land sustainably and carefully. For example, the increasing use of smart sensors in agriculture can improve yields, allowing more food to be sustainably produced on less land. It can also aid in the adaptation to climate change effects, such as droughts.
Elsewhere, agricultural techniques like hydroponic and vertical farming provide a compelling alternative to traditional field farming, reducing both water and land use. This is especially true in countries with significant amounts of marginal farmland, like parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
Biofortification could be a powerful tool for sustaining nutrient security in a more challenging growing environment. The process could help some regions to safeguard nutrient security, should crops fail due to climate change.
Carbon sinks and resilience
Restored natural environments can mitigate climate change, while also offering protection against its effects. This makes them a powerful tool in the global response to climate change. Mangroves and coastal reefs in regions such as the Caribbean and the Arabian Peninsula are one example of this: they absorb carbon and reduce the severity of storm damage. In Jamaica, which is particularly at risk of storm damage due to its densely populated coastal cities, a hectare of mangroves is worth approximately $2,500 every year in storm protection.
Uniting people and land
The relationship between people and land is complex, varying both within and between countries and regions. Managing this relationship will become even more critical when people’s lives and livelihoods are displaced or disrupted by droughts, floods, coastal storms, and other climate change effects.
In countries like Brazil and India, subsidies and incentives that reward farmers for protecting ecosystems may be an important tool in preventing land degradation. Encouraging a switch to more sustainable forms of agriculture will also play a role. For example, in Kenya, this could include a shift from water-hungry crops like coffee to indigenous ones like sorghum and millet.
These changes require both education and financial incentives. Potential downsides, such as reduced income from agricultural exports, may need to be managed. Balancing these factors locally and globally is therefore critical.
New models of consumption
Changes in the global food system will be driven by government policy and individual choices. This is a particularly important consideration in regions such as the Arabian Peninsula and the UK, that currently consume a large proportion of global resources – including highimpact food choices such as meat – relative to the size of their population.
Lower-impact food choices – such as local, seasonal vegetables, non-meat diets and insect proteins – are likely to become more common by 2050, enabled by food labelling, government-level campaigns and agricultural techniques.
The preservation and restoration of biodiverse ecosystems will be a key theme globally, from expanding hedgerows in and around UK farmland to restoring coastal mangrove swamps and sea grasses in tropical areas such as those on the Kenyan coast. These ecosystems are valuable for a range of reasons, from improving resilience against extreme weather to enhancing natural beauty, and therefore potential tourism opportunities.
Ecosystems that are especially important to a net-zero, resilient transition are not spread evenly across the globe. Understanding how to create a globally just transition that rewards people and countries for protecting these habitats is essential.
A JUST APPROACH
Some countries – like Jamaica – are already facing severe threats from climate change such as increases in temperature, highly variable rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and increases in intensity of hurricanes and storms. This may hamper the country’s food security, as well as their ability to adapt and develop. Such risks threaten poverty alleviation, human health, environmental sustainability and social inclusion. Market disruptions are likely in the energy and food sectors which could lead to higher prices for cooking gas, electricity, basic food provisions and fuel for transportation.
A participatory process, where civil society groups work with ministries to develop policies for land use and food security, is important. Both long - and short-term strategies should seek to address local concerns and ensure broad support across stakeholders and the wider public. Resolving these issues, and building a globally sustainable food system which also considers land use, will require considerable deep international collaboration.