Future Food Demands

Articles
April 02, 2009

Future Food Demands

By 2050, the world’s population is estimated to crest 9 billion, which is 40 percent higher than today’s population. At the same time, the world’s dietary interests are expected to continue changing. For example, since 1980, global production of meat has more than doubled. In the developing world, meat consumption has tripled. Today, feeding hungry mouths is no small task. Production of meat and dairy, which are important dietary sources of nutrients like protein, uses 30 percent of earth’s land surface, 70 percent of agricultural land, and accounts for 8 percent of water use, mostly to irrigate feed crops.

By 2050, the world’s population is estimated to crest 9 billion, which is 40 percent higher than today’s population. At the same time, the world’s dietary interests are expected to continue changing. For example, since 1980, global production of meat has more than doubled. In the developing world, meat consumption has tripled.

Today, feeding hungry mouths is no small task. Production of meat and dairy, which are important dietary sources of nutrients like protein, uses 30 percent of earth’s land surface, 70 percent of agricultural land, and accounts for 8 percent of water use, mostly to irrigate feed crops.

And as our numbers grow and the trend continues toward increased meat consumption, this means that food production will have to double to meet future demand.

Doubling sounds like a lot, but let’s take a step further and put it into context. Experts estimate the amount of food produced in the next 40 years will have to match the amount produced in the previous 10,000 years. Food production will also have to increase in spite of a changing climate and fewer key resources, such as water, land and energy.

No industry impacts water and land more than agriculture. Agriculture alone is estimated to use 70 percent of fresh water — in the developing world, that percentage is closer to 95 percent — and 55 percent of habitable land. The World Water Council suggests we will need 17 percent more water than what is currently available if we are going to feed the world by 2020.

So, with all of that in mind, it’s safe to say that the world is facing some complex agricultural challenges. The good news is that there are several innovative tools available – and in development – to help alleviate these challenges. From better plant breeding and on-farm improvement, to tools like biotechnology, science can play a major part in helping to deliver the solutions we need.

For example, today, plant biotechnology is increasing productivity per acre, and not just in the United States. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, the total crop production gains globally for the four principal biotech crops (soybean, maize, cotton and canola) was 32 million metric tons in 2007, which would have required more than 20 million additional acres had biotechnology not been used. The 32 million metric tons of increased crop production from biotech crops in 2008 comprised 15.1 million tons of corn, 14.5 million tons of soybean, 2.0 million tons of cotton lint and 0.5 million tons of canola.

But science can also enhance productivity in a sustainable way. Simply producing more on the acre is just one component. Rather, enhancing seeds in an innovative way that can yield more, as well as using fewer key resources per unit of output, is the real goal.

And the agricultural industry is advancing promising potential products that will help growers to produce more, conserve more and as a result, live better lives. Some of the exciting projects underway include higher-yielding corn, nitrogen-use efficiency corn and drought-tolerant crops that continue to yield despite low-water conditions.

By collectively using the tools of plant breeding, biotechnology and improving agronomic practices, it is likely that yields in crops like corn and soybeans will double from their 2000 averages by the year 2030. By achieving that goal, we’ll be well positioned to help meet the growing food demands of our growing population, sustainably.