A sustainable, global food supply is within reach. Here's why.

Diane Regas

I am lucky enough to live in California, the state that produces half of America’s fruits and vegetables. My family has easy access to healthy and abundant food – a prosperity everyone on Earth should enjoy.

But can all 9.7 billion people expected by 2050 get enough nutritious food, while leaving space for forests and oceans full of amazing creatures?

Getting there, or even coming close, will be tough. The world needs to produce 70 percent more food to feed these billions the United Nations projects the world will add over the next 35 years. And we need to do so in a changing climate that could cut global crop yields by more than 25 percent.

What makes me optimistic is that so many of our leading thinkers, companies, fishermen and farmers today are trying out practical solutions. It gives me hope that we can, in fact, feed our growing world without ruining the natural resources on which we all depend.

By zeroing in on sustainable agriculture and fisheries we would come a long way. Here are two of the really exciting areas that are bringing together diverse interests around proven solutions today – some of which are being scaled up globally.

1. A new way of farming

About 40 percent of the Earth’s non-ice, land surface is devoted to agriculture, and that’s how we use most freshwater, too. For many years, excess crop fertilizers have run off into streams and rivers, polluting drinking water and causing dead zones in lakes and oceans in the United States and elsewhere, which affects marine life.

As our footprint from food production continues to grow, there is a surprising new breakthrough making me feel optimistic. Major producers are changing how they grow and supply food, and they’re working with farmers to apply the best technologies to the problem.

In the past year, Campbell’s Soup joined Walmart, Smithfield Foods, General Mills and United Suppliers in a collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund to make fertilizer efficiency and soil health the norm in U.S. grain production. Our goal is to enroll 45 million acres in the program by 2020, and we’re already half-way there.

Farming techniques such as no-till and planting cover crops, meanwhile, increase a farm’s resiliency, which can boost yields and food production in the long-run. 

This year, some of the world’s largest, international food companies also agreed to rid many of their brands of artificial colors and flavors, and we expect more companies to follow suit in coming years. 

2. Fisheries that thrive

Just as pressure through the marketplace is helping agriculture deliver better food from the land, we are seeing an amazing shift in how we get food from the oceans. 

Overfishing has pushed nearly a third of the world’s fisheries into deep trouble, but we’re also seeing fisheries turn around, with rebounding fish populations as a result.

In nations such as Australia, Belize, Chile, Denmark, Mexico, Namibia and the U.S., a new system of fishing rights has transformed struggling fisheries. This approach gives each fisherman the right to a portion of a scientifically determined annual catch. If they stick to that limit, the fish population rebounds and revenues rise, making fishermen stewards of the resource.

In the Gulf of Mexico, as a result, there are now three times as many red snapper in the ocean since that fishery was reformed eight years ago.

In California, a fishery declared a federal disaster in 2000 made a remarkable comeback thanks to a fishing management program that implemented fishing quotas and new practices for local fishermen. Result: By 2014, virtually all fish caught in the West Coast groundfish system had become a sustainable option for consumers.

And in Belize, the government plans to implement a nationwide system of fishing rights after illegal fishing dropped and fishermen participating in a pilot program reported that their catches increased.

If sustainable fishing became the norm in 12 governments that account for 62 percent of the global catch, we can have 50 percent more fish in the oceans by 2025. That means we can also feed many more people.

The biggest job of all

The health of the environment and well-being of people who live on Earth are inextricably interlinked.

We cannot produce food for nearly 10 billion without taking into account how it will affect the environment. And we cannot continue to pollute the environment without considering how it will affect people who must eat.

That’s why food security is also an environmental issue.

But if we are truly committed to bringing healthy food for all, we’ll need to tackle the single largest threat to food security: climate change. With more extreme weather and food shortages on the horizon, this is work we can’t afford to put off.

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