Food availability and natural resource use in a green economy context

Purpose and scope of this paper

The term food security encompasses four dimensions that cut across the supply chain: food availability, access to food, stability of food supply systems regarding availability and access, and food utilization. This paper addresses the food availability dimension of food security

Food availability is defined as adequate quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports, including food aid. The green economy concept recognizes that an efficient, properly functioning economy is a precondition for addressing the environmental and social pillars of sustainability

In a green economy context, the food availability dimension is closely coupled with the availability and use of natural, human, and economic resources, especially the scarcity of natural resources. Coping with food and agricultural resource scarcities without reaching environmental limits presents a major challenge for the years to come. In addition, food availability also is closely coupled with food stability.

Planetary boundaries and natural resource limits

Since the onset of the industrial revolution, human activities have had an ever-growing impact on natural resources (Steffen et al., 2007). In recent decades, a tremendous intensification of these activities has taken place, threatening to alter the earth’s ecological functioning in a way harmful to many regions in the world (Rockström et al., 2009a).

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In advance of the Copenhagen Climate Council in 2009, Rockström et al. (2009a) developed the concept of “planet boundaries”, a framework that identifies the thresholds for indicators that monitor different earth system processes. In other words, it establishes a safe operating space for humanity. Thus, in order to secure a safe scope of action in the future, humanity has to limit the impact of its activities, recognizing that crossing these planet boundaries may lead to abrupt changes in earth systems that can negatively affect ecosystems and impair the further development of humans.

Status and trends in natural resource availability

Today, 1.6 billion hectares, or 12 percent of the global land area, are used for agricultural crop production and 3.4 billion ha are used for pasture (FAO, 2011d; FAO, 2010b). This land is cultivated by a mix of farmers, ranging from pastoralists and smallholders to large commercial farms. Of the world’s 455 million farms, 387 million have less than 2 ha of farmland and only two million are larger than 100 ha (von Braun, IFPRI)

Attaining higher levels of water use efficiency and preventing otherwise wasteful losses and associated pumping costs remain important objectives for ameliorating water scarcity and energy inputs to agriculture. A combination of increased productivity of water (more production per unit of water use) and, in some cases, of increasing efficiency of water use (the ratio between water effectively used by crops and water withdrawn from its source) is seen as an imperative for management of the global water cycle (CA, 2007; FAO, 2011d). These measures can be expected to lengthen the period for which the global hydrological cycle can be exploited


Forest cover, estimated at just over 4 billion hectares in 2010, represents 31 percent of the global land area. Primary forests cover 36 percent of the forested area, other naturally regenerated forests 57 percent, and 7 percent are planted forests (FAO, 2010d). Currently, 13 percent of world forests are legally protected in order to preserve biodiversity or protect soil and water reserves or cultural heritage (FAO, 2010d). Tropical forests are hotspots in biodiversity richness, home to 50–90 percent of the terrestrial plant and animal species but covering less than 10 percent of the global land area

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