In the past 30 years, global agriculture has made remarkable progress in expanding world food supplies. Although world population doubled over this period, food production rose even faster, so that the world’s croplands and pasturelands support an additional 1.5 billion people today. Gains have been particularly significant in the developing world. Per capita food supplies there rose from less than 2,000 calories per day in 1962 to more than 2,500 calories in 1995, driven by the combination of better seeds, expanded irrigation, and higher fertilizer and pesticide use—what has become known as the Green Revolution—as well as by the rapid growth in food imports from the rest of the world.
The prospect of feeding an additional 3 billion people over the next 30 years poses an even greater challenge. In the short term, experts predict that there will be adequate global food supplies, but that problems with distribution will result in hundreds of millions of people being malnourished. In the longer term, a number of additional issues raise concerns.
The rate of growth in world food production has started to slow. In addition, high rates of food loss during harvest, storage, and distribution persist, needlessly raising production requirements. Erosion and other types of soil degradation continue to take millions of hectares out of production.
However, none of these obstacles is insurmountable. Progress on all of these fronts will be essential to reach the goal of simultaneously intensifying production while reducing environmental costs, and ensuring that this food bounty is more equitably shared among the people of the world.