Spotlight on Economics: Global food security in 2050

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The book, "Who Will Feed China?: Wake-up Call for a Small Planet," authored by Lester Brown in 1995, was a surprising wake-up call about world food security.

Brown claimed that food production was not growing fast enough to feed China's increasing population, which could result in rising food prices in China and the rest of the world.

However, his claim has not been realized. As a result of advances in farming technology for the last two decades, the world has produced enough food to feed the increasing population in China and other nations, even though food shortages have been experienced on a regional basis due mainly to unfavorable weather.

Food production has increased fast enough to meet the increasing demand for food on a global scale. This is due mainly to significant increases in crop yields since 1980. From 1980 through 2011, there has been a 24.2 percent increase in corn yields, 21.8 percent in soybean yields, 22.7 percent in rice yields and a 10.5 percent increase in wheat yields.

However, how about the next 40 years? Can we produce enough food to feed the world population so the people can lead an active and healthy life? The world population is expected to grow by about 30 percent by 2050 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). The population is expected to grow from 7.2 billion in 2011 to 9.3 billion in 2050. Developing countries are projected to grow much faster than those in developed countries. In addition, the average consumption of calories or food per person is expected to increase with income growth in the future, according to the World Bank.

Calorie intake differs by region, with the highest in North America and the lowest in Africa. According to World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization estimates, there are 848 million undernourished people worldwide, with 98 percent of these people living in developing countries and 62 percent in Southern Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

Short- and long-term food security can be measured globally and regionally.

Regional food security depends upon regional supply and demand for food and the capability of importing excess demand from surplus regions. Meanwhile, global food security depends upon aggregate supply and demand for food on a global scale. A food shortage will bring about famine and higher prices. Main demand factors are population growth and changes in per-capita income.

Supply factors are changes in arable land and crop yields that are affected by weather conditions and farming technology.

Short-term food security depends upon the volatility in food supply stemming mainly from weather conditions, such as drought, flooding and temperatures, during the growing season.

Long-term food security depends upon general trends in food supply and demand caused by arable land, farming technology and alternative uses of agricultural commodities.

According to an econometric estimation, the total calorie consumption in 2050 is projected to be 33 trillion calories, which is based on a projected world population of 9.3 billion. Calorie consumption by region also is estimated by using the same model for each region. The percentage increase in calorie consumption is highest in Asia (103 percent), followed by North America (54 percent) and Latin America (38 percent). The projected percentage increase in calorie consumption in Europe and Oceania is less than 4 percent.

Based on expected changes in arable land and farming technology, the world production of calories is projected to be 31 trillion calories in 2050. However, the calorie production will not be large enough to satisfy the aggregate consumption of calories to lead active and healthy lives (33 trillion calories) in 2050. Furthermore, food shortage estimates are more severe in Africa and Asia than other regions.

In addition, global warming may be a major uncertainty in crop and livestock production. Global warming may affect crop and livestock production negatively and also bring increasing price volatility in agricultural products.

Regional and/or global food shortages can be eliminated or reduced by adopting certain policies:

* Assume that global warming will affect agricultural production negatively, so it is important to develop crop varieties that are adaptable under severe weather conditions. In addition, all nations should develop a policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent continuous global warming. This effort should be global rather than regional.

* All countries, especially developed countries, should invest in research and development to improve agricultural productivity and make the technology available to developing and food- deficit countries and regions.

* It is important to develop a global carryover stock policy to reduce uncertainty in agricultural production stemming from the weather.

Source: Won W. Koo, Professor and Center for Agricultural Policy and Trade Studies Director, NDSU Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department

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Gavin Palmer    
April, 03, 2013 at 11:41 AM

Any effort to provide food security will make use of local automated greenhouses allowing for sustainability and food security where fossil fuels are no longer used in agriculture and weather variations are less influential.


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