Global Food Trends and Production

What is YOUR OPINION on global food trends and PRODUCTION? – From Noori R. of Tehran, Iran.

The world population took 102 years (1825 to 1927) to reach 2 billion, in 1960 we reached 3 billion (in only 33 years) and we added consecutive billions in 1974, 1987, 1999. In 2011 the global population reached 7 billion. Almost all of the increased food PRODUCTION needed to feed our first 2 billion derived from expanding areas under production. For the 3rd billion to be fed, we only increased 40 percent in arable land production, mostly due to the mechanical revolution that freed about 321 million acres (130 million hectares). Only after 1960 when world population doubled from 3 to 6 billion (1960-1999) did increasing yield per area become the major source of increased food supply; allowing us to succeed. Some modest increases in arable land production have been added in Brazil, Africa, and Thailand since 1975, but were offset due to soil degradation and other problems. However, it has been investments in applied research that drove agriculture in the latter half of the 20th century. We are currently projected to reach the earth’s carrying capacity of 9.1 billion by 2050 (UN projection). There will be problems.

Succinctly, we will achieve a 34 percent increase in population, mostly from developing countries. Urbanization will continue to accelerate creating even larger megacities (those with populations >10 million) and extensive resource distribution problems. For adequate food, we need to increase production by 70 percent above current levels; cereals by about 3 billion tons (currently 2.1 billion t) and meats by 200 million tons (currently 470 million t). This would be on the conservative side since potentially arable land is found in only a few countries. But, there is a problem – water supply. Most of the countries that need to produce more food; even the U.S. is suffering water scarcity problems already, which will worsen. To obtain this increased food production will require that it be done now under production and, the increase will need to be accomplished using about one HALF the amount of water needed for that same amount of food production were it done today. This may not be possible.

But, there are additional major issues. There are competing demands for land from energy production, cyclical climate patterns (generally in 7-10 year cycles), loss of biodiversity and shrinking R&D budgets. This would imply that food imports will likely increase or double for developing countries due to fund shortfalls resulting in dire implications. Further, input PRICES are increasing; additional non-food demands are also increasing, i.e., biofuels such as ethanol. So, trade in foods must expand more rapidly than demand (trade liberalization will need to become central). To achieve this, world markets must remain stable. With global currency wars ensuing, global economic stagnation, shrinking resources, and climate change and other resource problems, stability will be difficult to maintain.

To summarize, a multitude of irrefutable facts confront us:

  1. Global food production has been declining
  2. Fertilizer index PRICES have declined
  3. Bio-fuel demand has doubled since 1975 and expected to double again by 2015, which shifts food supplies from people to energy
  4. Agricultural trade is growing less slowly than other trade
  5. Industrialized countries are major exporters
  6. DEVELOPING countries remain major importers
  7. Food markets are volatile and climate change will exacerbate this extant problem
  8. New land into production unlikely – increase must come from increased production
  9. Expansion of WATER is limited, if at all, while renewable, water is not expandable
  10. Agriculture is seen globally as the ‘bad guy’ because of water use and pollution – a decline in AVAILABLE water for agriculture is occurring and will likely continue (how do you reduce water use and increase yield?)
  11. R&D expenditures have plunged globally since 1990, even going negative in rich countries since 1991.

A recent ICA (Intelligence Community Assessment report – ICA 2012-08, 2 February 2012) had it all wrong. The report suggests that simple and inexpensive water management improvements in agriculture, including improved irrigation practices and land-leveling and new technologies for water application will greatly help to a great extent increased food needs. As noted from above, such processes will not accomplish that task; they are only a minor part of a much larger, interconnected system that few understand well enough to mitigate what will come assuming they had authority to do so.

Food security, in conjunctive interdependency with water security (see Water Security: Conflicts, Threats, and Policies by Tindall and Campbell) will become, next to water, the most critical issue for peace and stability in the world. Asia and Africa initially will be most impacted with potential implications for war. Further, developing countries cannot afford the latest irrigation technologies and mechanized improvements in agriculture. This is why trade growth rates are so important; it must grow rapidly, as well as be combined with investment in agricultural development and R&D. There are many other issues involved that there is insufficient ROOM to address herein.