Food loss and waste in agro-ecosystems Agriculture takes up 37.6 per cent of the world’s land area, producing food, forage, bio-energy and pharmaceuticals. Against the backdrop of an increasing population, the food production capacity of agro-ecosystems is under threat from climate change, land degradation and loss of biodiversity. Soil erosion alone is blamed for losses in potential grain yield of as much as 5 million tonnes per year, an amount that is enough to meet the annual food calorie needs of 24 million people. A further 3 million tonnes of grain is lost through salinization of croplands, which could potentially feed 14.3 million people over a year. The losses in potential food production from agriculture due to environmental degradation are in addition to the 1.3 billion tonnes of food that are produced but never consumed every year. About 1.4 billion hectares of land are used to produce food that is either lost or wasted. At the same time the rates of increase in food production are falling, a trend that shows the planet is reaching its full potential for food production through conventional agricultural practices. A shift towards ecosystem approaches that can maintain or enhance the quality of agro-ecosystems could reverse the trend and significantly increase overall food production in a sustainable manner.
impacts on other ecosystems, there is a clear connection between agricultural ecosystems and other ecosystems such as mountain, forest and freshwater. Good management practices can reduce the negative impacts of agriculture on ecosystems, while at the same time maintaining or increasing food production (Power 2010). Food provisioning can therefore be optimized through appropriate management practices targeted at supporting and regulating ecosystem services, as well by reducing ecosystem disservices (Zhang et al. 2007). Food production trends As a result of population growth and changing consumption patterns, the demand for food and production of food is increasing. Cereals such as wheat, rice and maize provide about two-thirds of all energy in human diets (Cassman 1999) and are grown on about half of the world’s total harvested land area (FAO 2013a). The past 50 years have seen global crop production expand threefold, with cereal production reaching 2.3 billion tonnes in 2012. Of this amount, about 1 billion tonnes was used for food and 750 million tonnes for animal feed. About two-thirds of the remaining food went to industrial processing or was used as seed or wasted (FAO 2013a). While there are regional differences, world cereal production increased by an annual average of 2.2 per cent between 1995 and 2009 (FAO 2012d). In the 1990s annual growth in production of cereals averaged 1 per cent,
An estimated 37.6 per cent of the world’s total land area is used for agriculture (FAO 2013a), and this ratio continues to expand. Crop and grazing lands, the main agricultural ecosystems, are a major source of food. In addition, agriculture also provides forage, bioenergy and pharmaceuticals (Power 2010). As much as 1.5 billion hectares, constituting 12 per cent of the world’s land area, is used for arable and permanent crop production. Considerable amounts of more land are suitable for crop production, but these are covered in forests, used for settlements or protected for environmental conservation (FAO 2013a). According to the FAO (2009), agricultural systems include agro-forestry, pastoralism, crop monocultures, grazing systems, mixed cropping, paddy rice farms, perennial orchards, shifting cultivation, small home gardens and plantations of oil palm, coffee, cacao and sugarcane. Food production through agriculture depends on services provided by natural ecosystems, including biological pest control, hydrological services, maintenance of soil structure and fertility, nutrient cycling and pollination (Power 2010). At the same time, agriculture also produces ecosystem services and disservices, depending on management practices. Ecosystem services from agriculture include carbon sequestration, disease control, regulation of soil and water quality, cultural services and support for biodiversity, while disservices include greenhouse gas emissions, loss of wildlife habitat, nutrient runoff, pesticide poisoning and sedimentation of waterways (Power 2010). Since the food provisioning role of agriculture is dependent on and has