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Monday 28 November 2011.|
The United Nations on Monday warned a quarter of the world's landmass was "highly degraded," making it difficult to raise food production by 70 per cent by 2050 with many farming areas already at risk.
"The report provides a wake-up call informing that humankind can no longer treat these vital resources as if they were infinite," said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome.
"The time for business as usual is over," Diouf told reporters.
The survey of all of the world's land and water resources found 25 per cent of land is "highly degraded" and 44 percent "moderately degraded" while only 10 per cent was classified as "improving".
The categories in the report entitled "The State of the World's Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture" includes classic soil and water degradation as well as aspects like biodiversity loss.
The report said land degradation was strongest down the west coast of the Americas, across the Mediterranean region of southern Europe and North Africa, across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and throughout Asia.
"Worldwide, the poorest have the least access to land and water and are locked in a poverty trap of small farms with poor quality soils and high vulnerability to land degradation and climatic uncertainty," it said.
Some 40 per cent of degraded lands are found in high poverty areas.
The report called for increased efficiency of water use by agriculture as well as innovative farming practices such as conservation agriculture, agro-forestry and integrated crop-livestock systems.
It said developing countries will need around US$1.0 trillion (755 billion euros) in investments between 2007 and 2050 for irrigation. Land protection will require US$160 billion over the same period, it added.
FAO stressed that erosion, desertification and climate change were endangering key production systems across the world from the Mediterranean to Southern Africa to Southeast Asia.
Many farming areas "face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agricultural use and practices," the report said.
FAO said that between 1961 and 2009 the world's cropland grew by 12 per cent while farming production expanded 150 per cent -- mainly thanks to a significant increase in yields of major crops because of scientific advances.
But rates of productivity are now decreasing in many areas -- key "warning signs" for the state of the land, the Rome-based organisation said.
The worst indicator was for East Asia, where FAO found that cereal production grew at an annual rate of 2.5 per cent between 1961 and 2006 but was expected to advance by just 0.3 per cent a year between 2006 and 2050.
Productivity has however increased in Central America and Eastern Europe.
FAO said production would have to increase above the rate of population growth because of rising incomes and dietary changes, such as growing consumption of dairy and food products in the developing world.
With pressure on natural resources, competition for land and water will become "pervasive" including between city and rural dwellers, FAO said.
"These systems at risk may simply not be able to contribute as expected in meeting human demands by 2050. The consequences in terms of hunger and poverty are unacceptable," Diouf said.