Issues surrounding global food security

Food security is a critical issue – Professor Robert L Thompson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gave a fascinating presentation on this subject at the recent USAEDC Workshop in Baltimore.

Food for thought

It is estimated that of the world’s 7.3bn people, 1.2bn people live on less than US$1.25 per day, and 780m people (one out of every nine people in the world) cannot afford 1,800 calories per day – not enough to put in even a medium level of physical activity.

Increases in food prices can be directly linked to social unrest and political instability, as evidenced by the many food riots in the developing world after strong food price inflation in 2008 and again in 2011.

With the global population projected to increase to 8.5bn by 2030 (according to the Population Reference Bureau), much of this growth is forecast to come from the developing and least developed countries of the world. It is thought that, by 2050, the world’s largest 10 countries will include “newcomers” such as Congo D.R. and Ethiopia.

Increasing urbanisation and rising incomes will lead to rapidly increasing demand, with the global “middle class” estimated to exceed 1bn households by 2023.  

A growing demand

World food demand is projected to grow about two-thirds between now and 2050. However, the world’s arable land is not distributed around the world in the same proportion, as is population.

For example, East and South East Asia have more than twice as much of the world’s population than of the arable land, and virtually all of their arable land is already in production.

The Middle East and North Africa have land, but not water. It is thought that at most 12% more arable land is available worldwide – the area of land in farm production could be doubled, but only by massive destruction of forests and loss of wildlife habitat, biodiversity and carbon sequestration capacity.

Growing constraints to increasing food production include limited water availability, sustainability issues, climate change as well as geopolitical risks to agriculture – wars and conflicts displacing people, diplomatic feuds leading to embargoes, failure to pursue effective economic growth strategies that maximise the number of people being lifted out of poverty, failure to get agriculture back on the global development agenda, rejection of modern technology and protectionist trade policies.

Addressing the issues

World population growth and the ever-widening gap between food supply and demand are clearly an important issue that needs to be tackled, in particular before the background of environmental concerns. Global food waste is an issue that also needs to be tackled in this context.

How can the world solve these problems?