The world is projected to hold a whopping 9.6 billion people by 2050. Figuring out how to feed all these people—while also advancing rural development, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting valuable ecosystems—is one of the greatest challenges of our era.
So what’s causing the global food challenge, and how can the world solve it? We begin to answer these questions through a series of graphics below. For more information, check out the interim findings of Creating a Sustainable Food Future, a report produced by WRI, U.N. Environment Programme, U.N. Development Programme, and the World Bank.
Innovative farmers are beginning to demonstrate how agroforestry and other relatively simple practices can significantly boost food production in Africa’s drylands. In fact, according to a new WRI working paper, improving land and water management on just 25 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s 300 million hectares of prime cropland would result in an additional 22 million tons of food. This strategy could go a long way towards sustainably feeding Africa—and the world.
The United Nations’ new population growth projections show that the world is set to reach nearly 9.6 billion by 2050. This growth holds serious implications for global food security. Absent other effective measures to control dietary shifts and reduce food loss and waste, the world will need to produce about 70 percent more food annually by 2050 to meet global demands. That is a big task, and even harder to do without converting millions more hectares of forests into farmland, contributing to climate change.
President Obama is in Africa this week to discuss development, investment, health, and, notably, food security. The trip comes on the heels of the president’s groundbreaking announcement of a U.S. Climate Action Plan. So it’s a fitting time for Obama and other global leaders to take notice of a strategy that addresses both climate change and food security in Africa—re-greening.
Re-greening—a process where African farmers manage and protect trees that grow on their farms, rather than cutting them down—is already beginning to transform the continent’s drylands. Supporting and scaling up the low-tech process can not only increase crop yields in drought-prone regions, it can mitigate climate change and reduce rural poverty.
The History of Re-greening in Africa’s Drylands
Re-greening in Africa first garnered international attention back in 2007, when the New York Times published a front page article entitled “In Niger, Trees and Crops Help Turn Back the Desert.” Lydia Polgreen, who was the NYT’s West Africa bureau chief in those days, had visited Niger and reported “at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres.” The NYT article revealed that this large-scale re-greening was not due to expensive tree-planting projects, but was the result of farmers protecting and managing young trees that regenerated on their cultivated land.
This re-greening did not happen everywhere. It was observed in particular in dryland regions with high population densities. Life in dryland areas presents many challenges, and farmers and decision makers are continuously searching for ways to restore their resilience and agricultural productivity.
An amazing 24 percent of all food calories produced today go uneaten. Reducing this loss and waste is a critical step toward generating enough food for a population set to reach more than 9 billion by 2050.
Fortunately, there are low-cost methods that can begin saving food immediately in both the developing and the developed world. WRI’s new working paper, Reducing Food Loss and Waste, identifies a number of these strategies. Some methods cut loss “close to the farm,” while others reduce waste “close to the fork.”
Reducing Food Loss Close to the Farm
Improved storage methods
Simple, low-cost storage methods can drastically cut food loss, especially for small-scale farmers in the developing world, who frequently lose food to factors like pests, spoilage, and transportation damage. For example, a system developed by researchers at Purdue University in which grain is stored in three interlocking plastic bags locks out pests and keeps grain fresh for months. The Food and Agriculture Organization has built more than 45,000 small, metal storage silos—just big enough for use by a single farmer—in 16 different countries. These silos have cut food loss during the storage phase to almost zero. Even using a plastic crate instead of a plastic sack during transport can cut loss dramatically by preventing bruising and squashing.
This post is the second installment of WRI’s blog series, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” The series explores strategies to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the 2013-2014 World Resources Report. Look for the next installment tomorrow, which will highlight a number of solutions to reduce food loss and waste.
The world produces about 4 billion tons of food per year, or about 6 quadrillion calories. That’s a large amount, but what’s really shocking is that nearly one-quarter of these calories go uneaten.
This food is lost or wasted in a number of ways. It might rot in the fields, get eaten by pests in storage, or be thrown away by a grocer or consumer, just to name a few. It’s a problem that must be mitigated: The world will need about 60 percent more calories per year by 2050 in order to adequately feed the projected population of more than 9 billion people. WRI’s new working paper, Reducing Food Loss and Waste, shows that cutting current rates of food loss and waste in half would reduce the size of this food gap by about 22 percent.
The new paper, part of the ongoing 2013-2014 World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future working paper series, looks at the scale of the food loss and waste challenge and examines how we as a global community can start tackling this issue. The paper and tomorrow’s blog post explore a number of practical, affordable strategies for governments, businesses, and households to reduce their loss and waste immediately.
But first, it’s important to understand the extent of the problem. Here are several facts and figures that reveal just how much food the world loses and wastes:
Since the very first Earth Day more than four decades ago, the environmental movement has tackled a wide range of problems, including air pollution, contaminated water, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and more. But this Earth Day, I propose that there are two fundamental issues the movement must address over the coming decade if it is ever to defuse the tension between development and the environment. In fact, these two issues underlie many, if not most, of the world’s environmental challenges.
Food production has significant―but often underestimated―impacts on the environment. Take climate, for instance: About one-quarter of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are agriculture-related. In particular, nearly 13 percent of global emissions comes from livestock, fertilizer use, and farm-related energy consumption, while another 11 percent results from the clearing of forests and other ecosystems, primarily for agriculture.
The world is on track to become a very different place in the next two decades. Per capita income levels are rising, the global middle class is expanding, and the population is set to hit 8.3 billion people by 2030. At the same time, urbanization is happening at an accelerated pace—the volume of urban construction over the next 40 years could equal that which has occurred throughout history to date.
While these projections would bring benefits like reduced poverty and individual empowerment, they have serious implications for the world’s natural resources. Global growth will likely increase the demand for food, water, and energy by 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively by 2030. Add continued climate change to the equation, and the struggle for resources only becomes more intense.
These are just a few of the estimates included in the new Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) that was released last month. The assessment, which the NIC puts out every four years, reflects in-depth research on trends and geopolitical changes that may unfold in the next 15-20 years—everything from urbanization to conflict to resource scarcity.
Assessments like the NIC’s are invaluable in providing decision makers with forward-looking insights and analysis. But while the report offers a glimpse into the future, what’s more important is how we respond today to the questions these “megatrends” raise.
Today is World Food Day, a chance for people all over the world to focus on approaches to end global hunger. Celebrated each year to commemorate the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this day provides us with an opportunity to assess where the world is today in regard to food security – and what we’ll all have to do in the future to achieve it.
How Do You Feed 9 Billion People by 2050?
For much of the planet, food security isn’t a concern on just one day of the year—it’s a daily struggle. According to the FAO, 870 million of the world’s poor are already undernourished, and yet global human population is projected to increase from 7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050. To sufficiently feed these people, worldwide food availability will need to increase by at least 52 percent from 2007 levels.
Yet agriculture is already having huge impacts on the world’s environment and resources. For instance, agriculture is the direct driver of about 80 percent of tropical deforestation. Agriculture is responsible for up to 85 percent of the world’s consumption of freshwater, and nutrient runoff is a major cause of water quality degradation globally. And according to WRI’s Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT), food production accounts for up to 27 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions per year due to deforestation, livestock, energy consumption on farms, and fertilizer use.