Mar 25, 2011

A Look At the World's Dwindling Food Supply

"The UK's Government Office of Science has released a report titled 'The Future of Food and Farming' which takes a look at, among other related concerns, how to continue to feed a global population that is on pace to reach 9 billion by the year 2050. 'The report calls for more innovation to increase production. That means using the potential benefits of GM crops and other biotech approaches, although these won't be a cure-all. There's room for improvement on the consumption end, too, as 30 percent of food never makes it into a human stomach; in the developed world, we let produce slowly rot in the backs of our fridges, and the in developing world, farm wastage causes a similar problem. ... Rising energy prices influence food security, with a correlation between food price and oil price that has become stronger over time, first increasing food production costs, and later by encouraging the diversion of food stocks into biofuel production.'" 
Professor Beddington began by giving a brief overview of the report, also entitled The Future of Food and Farming, stating that the case for urgent action in the global food system is now compelling, and denying the "foul slander that I've been buying wheat futures to drive the price up." Although he was able to inject some levity, it is a deeply serious and somewhat worrying issue. 

Facing a convergence of threats, the global food system is failing. Each month, the global population grows by another 6 million, and an ever-wealthier world means one with more purchasing power, which drives up prices. Currently, with the global population at 7 billion and change, more than a billion of those go to bed hungry, and another billion suffer from malnutrition. And trends suggest that things will get worse.  

2010 was the first year when more people lived in urban rather than rural environments; by 2050, we're going to need 30 percent more food and 40 percent more water than is currently available. 

Beddington's key message was that not acting is not a viable option, and a radical redesign of the global food system is a must.

As laid out in the report linked above, the system is failing when it comes to both sustainability and ending hunger. Agriculture consumes around 70 percent of available water, and that figure rises to more than 80 percent in the developing world. Rivers and aquifers are being overexploited, including here in the US. Of 11.5 billion hectares (about 28 billion acres) of land being used for food production, more than 25 percent has undergone human-induced soil degradation. 

Agriculture is also contributing between 10 and 12 percent of the emissions that drive climate change. And, even with immediate policy changes, climate change has locked in weather changes for the next 20 years, which will have an impact on food production. The 2007-08 food price spike put millions into poverty, and the signs are there that these food price spikes will continue to happen. Last year's Russian heat wave halved its harvest, and floods in Pakistan have been doing its food production no favors either.

Food security in the developing world

IFPRI's Shenggen Fan discussed the problem of food security in emerging and developing economies. The lofty Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger is off-track; it aimed to reduce the number of people in hunger to 584 million by 2015, but projections suggest that number will be closer to a billion. Twenty-nine countries, mainly in Africa (but also in Asia), have alarming or extremely alarming levels of hunger