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Can we feed the world in 2050?

Sun, 16th Jan 2011

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Sarah - The problem of how we might feed the earth’s population in the future has come under further scrutiny this week with the publication of Agrimonde – a book that is the summation of two years of work by two French institutions – INRA, the French National Institute of Agricultural Research, and CIRAD, which carries out agricultural research to help developing countries. Despite the study being carried out by two French Institutions, the book has been published in English, in order for the results to be more accessible on the world stage. I travelled to Paris for the launch of the study and spoke to Patrick Caron from the institution CIRAD about how even today we struggle to feed everyone on Earth...

earthPatrick - There is a very big problem – we’re used to finding food in the supermarket and having money in our pockets to pay for that food. But that’s not the case in all countries, and not even the case in our own country sometimes. We have to remember that 1 billion people in thwe world are suffering from what is unacceptable. one death from malnutrition is one death that should not be accepted for ethical reasons. human history has been paved with this problem, and starvation has always been part of our history, but in the 1970s we discovered a tremendous growth in population at the world level.

Sarah - And it’s the continued increase of this population growth – predicted to reach 9 billion people by 2050 - that is causing concern.  Now, concern about feeding the growing population isn’t new, but this is the first study to integrate looking at patterns of food production and consumption over the past forty years, with two possible scenarios for how we might proceed with providing the world with food in the future. The first they called Agrimonde 1. In this scenario, the world is characterised by sustainability – so a decrease in both undernourishment and overconsumption, ecological intensification of farming, and security of trade. The second scenario, called Agrimonde GO, is kind of the ‘business as usual’ scenario, where food production increases year on year as it has done in the last 40 years, trade is liberal, and little thought is given to environmental impact of feeding the world. Agrimonde 1 would involve a lot of changes, not just with agriculture but also our eating habits. The current world average daily calorie consumption is 3000 kilo calories, but this is not evenly distributed – in some areas people eat a lot more, like in Europe and the united states, and in some people eat a lot less.  The aim for the scenario Agrimonde 1 is to have everyone eating 3000 kilocals a day, irrespective of where they live.  The way people consume and waste food is an area that Agrimonde looked at in detail, and an area which will need to see changes, as Marion Guillou from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research explains...

Marion - Eating habits are different in different parts of the world. Our European habits for example are not sustainable. First there are health questions, and then it’s not sustainable if all the world began to eat as we do, as it would put a pressure on production that would be tremendous. So what we did was we looked at a scheme of eating habits that is compatible with good health, i.e. 3000 kilocalories, and then we looked at whether it is possible to feed the world with this sort of eating habit all around the world, and the answer is yes, but with some questions we need to answer.

Sarah - And given that the institutions INRA and CIRAD both carry our agronomic and agricultural research, this is one of the ways we could innovate in the future. Genetic techniques could be used to increase yields, either by genetic modification to produce pest resistant or salt tolerant varieties of wheat or corn, or by marker assisted selection – a way of making the old fashioned method of plant crossing to produce varieties with the characteristics you want more efficient. But producing these new varieties will not be the whole story. Francois Houllier from French National Institute for Agricultural Research...

Francois -   If we consider the agricultural challenges we face and the different solutions we may imagine, we need to consider the way we grow our crops. By this I’m thinking of the nitrogen and different fertilisers we use, and the pesticides that we need to reduce. We also have to think about the rotation of the crops. We will need to combine different approaches, different disciplines and different techniques.

Sarah - So, we need to adopt an integrated approach to increasing food production and we need to change our eating habits and stop wasting so much food – not exactly an easy fix, but if we can manage these things, then the conclusion of the book was that yes, we will be able to feed the world...

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Isn't the primary problem that we need to get the Global Human Population under control before nature starts to (or continues to) take its course?

It is a pretty simple equation.

Maximum of 1 kid per person, 2 kids per couple, and the population will level out (although there may be some momentum in some countries with extremely young populations, in which case perhaps more drastic measures are needed).

And, big countries like the USA should not be excused from that.  There is no reason why our population should be growing.

How to make it happen?

Get the religions leaders on board with the dire need to control our population.  How can a religion claim to be "good shepherds", and still allow families with more than 2 kids, or fight against birth control?
TAXES.  For future born kids.  Lifetime deduction for 1st born for each parent.  Impose PUNITIVE TAXES for any additional kids.  They should be able to support their cost to society.  Only exception might be naturally conceived twins/triplets (but not fertility enhanced "litters").
Enforced sterilization.  I know this is brutal.  Tie it to welfare if you wish.  Why should I pay a penny of welfare for a family of 5+ kids?  The same thing should be true on an international scale. 
Global Aid, Trading, Health Care, Subsidies, Food, etc....  tie it all to getting a country's population under control
Education.  Many studies show extreme benefits of education.  Boys, girls, health ed, political ed.
Global Access to Birth Control of all types.  Why are we even arguing about birth control methods?


Whether or not CO2 is a "critical" issue to the world.  We have many critical issues largely related to overpopulation including pollution, destruction of natural resources, habitat destruction, endangered species & species extinctions, etc.  In fact, even non-sustainable agriculture.

Will our fertilizer resources be depleted in the future?  Then what?

If an ice age should come.  I suppose we're learning about greenhouse gases, but if we can't maintain the status-quo, the devastation could be tremendous.

I know the question was about feeding the world.

But, the answer should not be backing ourselves into a corner where we have to have genetically modified foods, enforce vegetarianism or veganism, mine phosphates and potassium until they are GONE.  All because one's neighbors can't keep their pants on, or because priests refuse to be "good shepherds" of their flocks. CliffordK, Sat, 22nd Jan 2011

Can we?  Yes.

Will we?  No.

We never have.  We never will. yamo, Sun, 23rd Jan 2011

If we didn't waste 20% of our food, the situation wouldn't be so bad.

That said, I do think we must change our eating habits. We cannot continue to fly food half way around the world (especially if we are going to throw 20% of it in the bin).

There is much to be taken into account when dealing with the problems we face now and will face in the future on this matter. Global climate problems are just one set of problems. There is also the matter of where we grow our foods and where it is needed. The ever increasing world population, the consequences of high oil prices on transport costs and fertilisers, the use of pesticides and herbicides not to mention GM technology and its effect on the natural world.

I can see our food becoming rather boring, if we find it necessary to cease the diversity in favour of the staples, in order to satisfy demand. Don_1, Mon, 24th Jan 2011

I did my final assignment for my english class at school on population growth (mostly focusing on Australia but it applies to most of the developed world).  In my conclusion to it all I basically stated that (amogst other things) that humans are used to having two cars in each family, to turning the air conditioner on all through the Summer months and to either watch TV or sit on their computers all afternoon everyday.  Like Yamo said, we can support that many people but we wont simply due to the fact that humans are far too wasteful with their rsources and refuse to change.  I personally believe that although we all do need to change our way of living that that a larger population is still a bad idea.  Simply due to that fact that the world will reach it's limit and then what will happen?  Whatever is left of the natural environment will be destroyed = no food = huge global famines... etc...

I know that this isn't really exactly to what the question was but here in Australia the government is currently supporting whaat they call a "big Australia" were they are trying to really boost Australia's population.  Dick Smith has done some really big stuff about informing the public about the negatives of a growing population in Australia.  Although it does focus on Australia it applies to the whole world.  If your interested I'd recomend looking at this...
http://www.abc.net.au/tv/populationpuzzle/ Shadow, Tue, 25th Jan 2011

Simply because humans can survive on 1000 calories a day rather than 3000 calories, that doesn't mean that it should be our ultimate goal.

We have had 4 billion years of "Climate Change".  If there was some kind of a climate disaster, that 1000 calories could quickly become 500, and you can imagine how easily that will be distributed.

Should we leave something for all the other species on the planet? CliffordK, Tue, 25th Jan 2011

I agree completely with you CliffordK. Shadow, Tue, 25th Jan 2011

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