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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Will Food Production Keep Up With Demand?


There are seven billion people on Earth and in many regions food supplies are tight.  There will be 8 billion about 2035 and 9 billion by 2050 and how will they be fed, easily or with difficulty?  The supply of food may not be the only issue that will answer that question.  Other issues, including food policy, waste, and trade barriers may also significant determinants about whether the world’s population will be fed well or barely fed.  What can we do about some of those issues and begin making plans to address them?

World population is increasing, but the rate has slowed, thanks to some national policies and other disincentives for larger families.  Nevertheless, there will be more mouths to feed and food will be needed, says Iowa State University ag economist Don Hofstrand, whose recent observations on population growth are rooted in the predictions of the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization that the demand for food will likely be met.  Other organizations suggest some challenges along the way and that today’s food demand will double.  Hofstrand says there will be several dynamics working:

1) Growth in income will not only spur increased need for quantity of food, but quality, and when people have more money to spend, food purchases include more meats.  The greatest change will be in China, Brazil, and the US.  Because it takes more grain to produce a pound of meat, increased grain production will be needed.
2) The world’s population is currently split between rural and urban homes, but in the next 40 years, that will change to have 70% of the global population become urban oriented.  Urban lifestyles require diversified diets, more processed foods, and a shift from grains to fruits and vegetables.  Those left in rural areas will have a more basic lifestyle, more rapid population growth, and will not all be able to work in agricultural production.
3) About 30% of the food produced will be wasted with losses along the entire food production supply chain.  Hofstrand says if a goal of 50% reduction in waste can be met, then production will have to be increased only 45% instead of 70%.  Waste can be reduced with increased technology regarding contamination, spoilage, pest control, and transportation.  However most food is wasted at the point of consumption and that is more difficult to control.
4) Food production will have to increase, but both an increase in acreage and an increase in yield with more fertilizer both have environmental impact. The more preferred method is the use of technology that increases production more than the increased amount of inputs used.  Over the past 45 years increased agricultural production can be attributed half to increased input application and the other half to increased production efficiency.  For the needs of 2050 to be met, investments will have to be made on research to increase efficiency at a higher rate.
5) The best opportunities for increased food production are not where the population will be increasing the most, so imports and exports will be important facets of feeding the population.  Export restrictions increase problems for the vulnerability of poor countries which are food importers and it penalizes agricultural development in exporting countries.
6) Hunger exists today, and may always exist, not because of insufficient food, but the inability to buy it.  While there are hungry people in rich nations, they are more vulnerable in poor nations where food price shocks can also occur.  Consumers in lesser developed countries spend a higher percentage of their income on food and are the hardest hit by high commodity prices.

The availability of food will be a concern as the world population grows, and dynamics work against food sufficiency across the globe.  Economic conditions will drive many of the problems, along with the need for greater research in production efficiency and food preservation.

Posted by Stu Ellis on 01/05 at 12:37 AM | Permalink


As population growth approaches it's theoretical maximum at the carrying capacity of the environment, there are two important points to consider:(1) at that asymptote, competiton for resources reaches its maximum (ie- we have the exact antithesis of quality of life that we would experience at the "Garden of Eden" end of the curve, and (2) any failure in providing the technology that has allowed the carrying capacity to rise to this high level will result in a compensatory die-off of the population. How long can we sustain this level of technology into the future?

Posted by: t brandt md at January 8, 2012 11:11AM

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