Will 10 billion of us have enough to eat?
By Kumar Venkat
When the world's seven billionth person was born last month, that event was merely a signpost along a much longer and arduous path. The world population is projected to reach 9.3 billion by mid-century and exceed 10 billion by 2100. Among all the questions about how such a large population can actually exist (and dare I say thrive), here is a basic one: Will 10 billion of us have enough to eat?
The The Food and Agriculture Organization’s business-as-usual scenario forecasts that annual food production by 2050 will need to rise 70 percent compared to 2006. Annual cereal production will have to rise by nearly one billion metric tons and meat production by 200 million metric tons. The World Wildlife Fund’s Jason Clay estimates that we will need to produce 2.5 times as much food in the next 90 years as we have in all of the last 8,000 years combined.
Food production already uses 58 percent of Earth’s habitable land and consumes 67 percent of the fresh water. Climate change goes hand in hand with this. According to the FAO, agriculture directly contributes 13.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the additional impacts of land-use changes, food processing and the rest of the value chain, the provision of food likely exceeds a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Given the limited availability of additional land and water -- and really nowhere to go as far as higher emissions -- two distinct narratives are emerging about how we should respond to these projections.
One of these takes the population and consumption trends as given, and focuses on how to increase production to meet the rising demand for food. The FAO is part of this thread, and has highlighted the big question of how to achieve the yield and productivity gains needed to feed the world sustainably in 2050. It points out that agricultural productivity growth over the last half century was the real reason why the rapidly rising demand for food, feed and fiber could be met.
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