- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2011

ROME — The United Nations has completed the first-ever global assessment of the state of the planet’s land resources, finding in a report Monday that a quarter of all land is highly degraded and warning that the trend must be reversed if the world’s growing population is to be fed.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that farmers will have to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to meet the needs of the world’s expected 9 billion population.

That amounts to 1 billion tons more wheat, rice and other cereals and 200 million more tons of beef and other livestock.

As it is, however, most available land is being farmed already, in ways that often decrease its productivity through practices that lead to soil erosion and wasting of water.


That means that to meet the world’s future food needs, a major “sustainable intensification” of agricultural productivity will be necessary on existing farmland, the FAO said in “State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture.”

FAO’s Director-General Jacques Diouf said increased competition over land for growing biofuels, coupled with climate change and poor farming practices, have left key food-producing systems at risk of being unable to meet human needs in 2050.

“The consequences in terms of hunger and poverty are unacceptable,” he told reporters at FAO’s Rome headquarters. “Remedial actions need to be taken now. We simply cannot continue on a course of business as usual.”

The report was released Monday as delegates from around the world met in Durban, South Africa, for a two-week U.N. climate-change conference aimed at breaking the deadlock on how to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

The report found that climate change, coupled with poor farming practices, has contributed to a decrease in productivity of the world’s farmland following the boon years of the Green Revolution,” when crop yields soared thanks to new technologies, pesticides and the introduction of high-yield crops.

Thanks to the Green Revolution, food productivity increased by 150 percent between 1961 and 2009 even though the world’s cropland grew by just 12 percent.

However, the U.N. report found that rates of growth have been slowing in many areas and are only half of what they were at the peak of the Green Revolution.

It found that 25 percent of the world’s land is “highly degraded,” with soil erosion, water degradation and biodiversity loss. Another 8 percent is moderately degraded, while 36 percent is stable or slightly degraded and 10 percent is ranked as “improving.”

The rest of the Earth’s surface is either bare or covered by inland water bodies.