Jul 28, 2011 by Lee Hart

Get ready to feed the world

If forecasts for feeding the world are even half correct,
farmers in Western Canada will be growing wheat and canola not only on every
acre, but in their bathtubs just to try and meet global demand.

You hear these figures on where world population is headed
over the next 40 years and for me it is always staggering. It is generally good
news for agriculture, but at the same time the big question is “can the world
do it?”

Dr. Robert Thompson, a retired professor from the University
of Illinois, former vice president of the World Bank

Robert Thompson photo.jpg

 and just one of those
learned guys who probably forgot more about agriculture and agriculture policy
before breakfast than I’ll ever know, gave an interesting talk on the outlook
for agriculture at the Canola Council of Canada annual conference in Saskatoon
this week.

Thompson (pictured right) says it is a good news scenario that the demand for
agricultural commodities and food will increase dramatically over the next 40
years, but adds there will also be significant challenges to feed the world.
The crux of the issue — the world population will increase by 2.6 billion over
the next 40 years, world food demand will increase by 50 per cent, but there is
only 12 per cent of the world land area that has potential for development for
new crop production.

Here are some of his figures:

– The world population stands at
about 6.8 billion people today and that is expected to increase by 2.6 billion
by 2050. China currently has a population of 1.3 billion people, so the
increase will represent the world feeding two more Chinas than there is today.

       Out
of the roughly seven billion people in the world today, 1.4 billion live on
less than $1.25 per day. And 925 million live at a level where they cannot
afford the basic human food requirement of 1800 calories/ day.

       Another
2.6 billion people live on less than $2 per day, which is enough to sustain
life, but gives them not much more.

       A
person needs to be living on about $10 per day before they are able to meet
basic food requirements and afford some of the extras.

       Once
a population moves into that $10 per day/per capita range that is the income
range that places a greater demand on agricultural commodities. They can afford
to buy more.

       Right
now about 15 per cent of China lives on less than $1 per day, and about 33 per
cent live on less than $2.

       In
India 40 per cent of the country lives on less than $1 per day, and 75 per cent
of the population on less than $2.

       Thompson
says as the economies of developing countries improve, India may have the
greater demand for agricultural commodities than China.

       50
per cent of the world population now lives in cities, and by 2050 that is
expected to reach 70 per cent.

       There
will a 50 per cent increase in food demand in the first half of this century as
the population grows from seven to nine billion people.

       Looking
at arable land, only about 12 per cent of the world land base can still be
developed for agricultural production, without running into some significant
environmental problems. Most of this undeveloped land is in South America and
in the sub-Sahara region of Africa (countries along the southeast side of the
continent). These are difficult soils but can be productive with the proper
management and inputs.

       About
70 per cent of the fresh water on the planet today is used for agriculture, but
as more people move into cities, (70 per cent by 2050) there will be greater
demand for water in urban centres and less available for agriculture.

       In
many low income or developing countries 25 per cent of agricultural commodities
are lost or spoiled in the time between harvest and when they can reach
consumers.

These circumstances along the impact of climate change, he
says will place significant pressure on agricultural producing countries to not
only produce more food, but to produce it more efficiently. The food demand
will increase by 50 per cent, but there isn’t 50 per cent more land or water to
support it.  There will be
increasing pressure on biotechnology to produce higher yielding crops that are
drought tolerant, disease resistant, with higher nutritional value, and more
adaptable to a wider range of adverse conditions.

There will need to be a greater investment in both public
and private agricultural research and development to bring about these
efficiencies and essentially produce more from the same, or in some cases, less
resources.

Lee
Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or
by email at
[email protected]

 

        

Lee Hart

Lee Hart


Lee Hart is a long-time farm writer, and honorary member of the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, with many observations on the agriculture industry, who never hesitates to admit he is wrong (should that ever happen.)


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