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FAO says Food Production must Rise by 70%

With global hunger on the rise again, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has issued a sobering forecast on world food production. If global population reaches 9.1 billion by 2050, the FAO says that world food production will need to rise by 70%, and food production in the developing world will need to double.

The FAO's production requirements may be an underestimate. The FAO's forecast does not take into account any increase in agricultural production for biofuels. Earlier reports by FAO projected that biofuel production by 2030 will require 35 million hectares of land--an area about the size of France and Spain combined.

The projected 70% increase in food production will have to overcome rising energy prices, growing depletion of underground aquifers, the continuing loss of farmland to urbanization, and increased drought and flooding resulting from climate change.

The FAO estimates that doubling food production in the developing world by midcentury alone will require an average annual net investment of US$83 billion dollars (in 2009 dollars). That translates into a 50% increase over current investment levels, and that does not include funds that may be needed to build roads and large scale irrigation projects.

Agricultural production will have to increase at the same time that governments are trying to slash global greenhouse gas emissions. Historically, the production and distribution of food has been a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The large increase in the use of nitrogen fertilizer for the production of crops like corn has dramatically increased the emissions of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, while the world's growing appetite for beef is contributing to a rise in methane emissions. The gasoline and diesel fuel that is consumed by tractors and trucks is also a large source of carbon emissions.

In related news, the FAO also reported in October that after a decade of steadily rising hunger, the number of people in the world who are chronically hungry crossed the one billion mark in 2009. The FAO estimated the number of people suffering from chronic hunger at 642 million in Asia and the Pacific, 265 million in sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 42 million in the Near East and North Africa.

The FAO cited several factors, in addition to population growth, as reasons for the upsurge in global hunger. In addition to the sharp hike in grain prices that set off riots in many countries in 2008, the global recession has boosted unemployment and decreased the remittances that immigrants send back home. The FAO estimates that the current economic crisis has forced 105 million more people into hunger.

Director-General Jacques Diouf, who called the hike in hunger "historically unprecedented," urged donor countries to increase agriculture's share of official development assistance from 5% to 17%, the level it was in 1980.