Without changes in crop productivity and other agriculture policies, food prices will also rise globally, and calorie consumption could drop on average a dramatic 12 percent in the developing world. That, in turn, will cause more childhood malnutrition particularly in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, he said, unless major investment is made in agriculture infrastructure, farming techniques and other crop adaptations.
Private industry, governments and social welfare groups must move quickly to invest in agricultural science, rural farming and infrastructure in all regions across the globe, to mitigate the evolving spiral, a panel of agriculture scientists, educators and business leaders said during the annual Ag Innovation Showcase in St. Louis last weekend.
With world population projected to hit 9 billion people by 2050, food production must escalate globally because of lower crop yields due to climate change in all agricultural regions and rising wages in Asia (especially China), Latin America and Africa. Increased family incomes in less developed countries will fuel increased demand for meat and dairy, said Mark Rosegrant, International Food Policy Research Institute, as a keynote speaker. At the same time, demand for grains will double in Latin America and triple in sub Saharan Africa and, he predicted, fuel prices could rise to $125 to $150 a barrel by 2050, putting more pressure on agriculture worldwide to produce biofuel alternatives.
"There will be a lot more pressure on the land to feed people," he told the international gathering of corporate industry leaders, venture capitalists, institutional investors and entrepreneurs involved in advancing agriculture.
He even projected a future where, due to climate change, the U.S. would not export corn overseas because of demand at home.
"In a lot of the analysis we've done, the U.S. is really under threat of climate change, which will significantly reduce yields from the American agricultural heartland without changes in practices and crop characteristics. Parts of Latin America, Asia and Brazil also will be hit hard," Rosegrant said. "Climate change poses a significant risk to productivity growth if we don't adapt to it well
But he estimates the number of children afflicted by malnourishment could drop by 30 million by 2050 with at least a $32 billion in public investment in agriculture, infrastructure and social programs. If such investments are not made, "there is a fairly dismal outlook on the goals we have to cut childhood malnutrition, but we can make significant progress despite the future scarcity by making this investment," Rosegrant said.
In the meantime, the world's most populous country—China—will cease its population growth by 2026 and some 500 million Chinese will move from the countryside to cities. They will eat less rice and wheat and, with their rising incomes, demand more meat, dairy and fish, which will boost demand for livestock feed.
China will become an agricultural importer and is already trying to boost farm productivity by investing more in biotechnology, outspending U.S. government ag research twofold, said panelist Scott Rozelle, with the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.
"China is going to be part of the world food change in the future, and it's going to be part of the answer--maybe," Rozelle said.
There are some bright spots. Brazil will produce about 40 percent more agricultural products by 2019 and continue to boost its global exports, especially to China, India and Africa, said Elisio Contini, with EMBRAPA (the Brazil Enterprise for Agricultural Research). Brazil has doubled its output of grains to 160 million tons a year since 1977, quintupled sugarcane production to 625 million tons a year in the same time, and produced 31 million tons of meat and poultry last year.
"We have had a big revolution in poultry, beef and pork," Contini said. "Brazil is providing food meat for our population and for export to other countries."
Some solutions to the coming agriculture crisis involve financing and opportunity for farmers in developing countries, such as increasing access to financing for farmers in Africa, investing more in mobile-phone banking in the developing world and infrastructure investment, plus educating women and children, said Joyce Cacho, Novus International.
"We must invest in rural development, reduce energy cost while increasing energy availability, increase accessibility to quality, nutritious, affordable food, improve environment management, and address social justice," Cacho said.