MSU Extension educators work on the issue of sustaining 9 billion by 2050

MSU Extension educators examine and plan for the health and well-being of residents by the year 2050.

At the 2012 annual Fall Extension Conference, leaders from Michigan State University Extension’s focus areas of Greening Michigan, Health and Nutrition, Children and Youth, and Agriculture and Agribusiness attended a general session on climate variability and change, and how changes to water quantity, quality and availability will likely impact food, feed, fuel and fiber production, land-use policies, species’ habitats, and the health and well-being of residents by the year 2050.

Educators were challenged to work together to discuss what needs to be done in order to feed a growing world. It is anticipated that the world’s population will expand to some 9 billion people by the year 2050. This growing world population will need to be satisfied as critical resources such as water, energy and food become increasingly scarce.

A recent comprehensive study, commissioned by the United Kingdom on the future of food and farming also gives valuable insight to all aspects of the global food system, as well as how the farming and food industry can contribute to the transition to a green economy. These include concerted efforts at national, regional and global levels of government, and close partnership with the private sector and civil society.

Food production, processing, the supply chain, consumer attitudes and demand are discussed in the article, as well as areas that interact with the food system, such as climate change mitigation, energy competition, water competition and land use planning. Five key challenges for the future are cited:

  1. Balancing future demand and supply sustainably – to ensure that food supplies are affordable
  2. Ensuring that there is adequate stability in food supplies
  3. Achieving global access to food and ending hunger
  4. Managing the contribution of the food system to the mitigation of climate change
  5. Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services while feeding the world

These last two challenges recognize that food production has a major impact on all of the Earth’s environmental systems and already dominates much of the global land surface and water bodies.

The food system, while continuing to provide plentiful and affordable food for the majority of the world’s population, is failing in two major ways which demand decisive action:

  • Hunger remains widespread – 925 million people experience hunger
  • Many systems of food production are unsustainable – without change, the global food system will continue to degrade the environment and compromise the world’s capacity to produce food in the future, as it contributes to climate change and the destruction of biodiversity

Despite these challenges, the state of Michigan, with its abundant water supply and other natural resources, is uniquely positioned to create new opportunities for producers, entrepreneurs and tourists. MSU Extension, a long-trusted resource for our stakeholders, is uniquely positioned as a “boundary institution” to help people work through these complex, value-laden issues.

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