World’s food production on pace to feed 9.6 billion

By Meghan Eldridge 

DES MOINES, Iowa — Total global food production is currently on track to feed the world’s growing population, which is predicted to reach 9.6 billion people in 2050, according to a report released at the World Food Prize Wednesday.

Productivity throughout the world will need to grow at an average rate of 1.75 percent each year to double agricultural output and feed that population. The current rate of production is 1.81 percent, though the distribution of growth in productivity is varied across the globe, according to the report, released by the Global Harvest Initiative.

The figures presented in the report are based on a concept called total factor productivity, a measurement of agricultural outputs versus inputs. Total factor productivity reflects positive growth if outputs increase and inputs remain constant.

Inputs are the factors necessary for growing a crop, including land, labor, fertilizer, machinery and livestock. When crops are grown more efficiently and with fewer inputs, total factor productivity increases.

This year’s report revised information from previous reports, focusing on five regions: East Asia, South and Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. The report included the following revisions:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa’s current agricultural production is predicted to support only 25 percent of food demand in 2030.
  • East Asia will need to continue increasing its productivity and food imports to meet growing demand.
  • Brazil is expected to produce twice the amount of demanded food by 2030.

Although global production is projected to keep pace with a growing population, research and development as well as the introduction of new technologies to low-income countries are still needed to ensure the world’s food supply meets the increase in population.

“The overall findings of the 2013 GAP Report indicate that over the past decade, countries are managing to maintain growth in productivity on global average,” Margaret Zeigler, executive director of Global Harvest Initiative, said in a news release. “But those findings should not downplay the serious and urgent fact that we must maintain an increasing rate of global agricultural productivity year after year for the next 40 years.”

Despite overall growth in total factor productivity worldwide, agricultural outputs continue to lag behind in developing nations, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa.

This lag will present a problem if research and innovation efforts are not made in the region as the population continues to grow, the report said. Total factor productivity must increase to mitigate the effect of agriculture on the region’s natural resources.

“To more sustainably increase output from every resource we use for food production, we need greater investment in agricultural research and development, better trade agreements for facilitation of global and regional trade in agriculture, and a commitment to apply information and science-based technologies,” Zeigler said.

One focus of the report is the connection between China and Brazil. The middle class in China is projected to grow from 270 million to 950 million people by 2030. With this increase in income, demand for meat and animal protein will also increase, creating a 28 percent gap in China’s food production and consumption.

Brazil has increased food production by 120 percent in the past 20 years and will likely serve as a source of food imports and agricultural production for China’s growing middle and upper class, according to the report.

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