Italy -- FAO's Jelle Bruinsma is
the editor of World agriculture: towards
2015/2030, a major FAO study that analyses
upcoming food production issues around the globe. Here are some
of his thoughts on how the world can put more food in
people's stomachs while taking care of the environment and
dealing with the new trade environment. eliminate
FAO says that it will be possible to feed an
additional 2 billion people by the year 2030. How will this be
We are facing an
enormous challenge, but we are convinced that the world can feed
As the population increases
and incomes rise, demand for food will also grow. We estimate
that total demand for agricultural products in 2030 will be
about 60 percent higher than today. More than 85 percent of this
additional demand will be in the developing countries, as nearly
all population growth will be there. In these countries demand
per person is still lower than in the developed world.
As in the past, agriculture will respond to
increasing demand by producing more. But that is demand as
expressed in the market place - meaning it does not include
people too poor to buy food. In fact, we expect that by 2030
around 440 million persons will still be chronically
In addition, although the
potential to increase production exists, such increases will not
be automatic. We need to augment investment in agricultural
development and in particular in agricultural research -- not
only to raise yield levels, but also to maintain yield levels.
Won't higher production put
more stress on precious natural resources such as land, water,
forests, fish resources and biodiversity?
Yes, the pressure on the environment will increase,
but at a slower pace than in the past. This is because growth in
agricultural demand and production will continue to slow down,
as population growth slows down and an ever-increasing part of
the population is better fed.
that, globally, annual agricultural growth will decline from 2.2
percent over the last 30 years to 1.5 percent over the next 30
At the same time, more and more
agricultural technologies will become available that have less
damaging effects on natural resources than conventional
techniques. These factors, combined with ever-increasing
pressure to limit environmental damage, will put agriculture
slowly on a more sustainable growth path than in the past.
Are we running out of arable
In theory, there is still
enough suitable arable land worldwide not yet used for
agriculture. In practice, however, these lands are not readily
available for agriculture. Most of the unused land is in Latin
America and sub-Saharan Africa, concentrated in a handful of
countries. Second, much of it is under forests or protected.
Third, much of it is also of poor quality, infested by diseases
and lacking infrastructure, so it cannot be used in an
economically viable way.
countries are indeed running out of suitable land, particularly
in the Near East, North Africa and South Asia.
Taking into account availability of and demand for
land, we estimate that the arable land area in developing
countries will increase by about 120 million hectares over the
period up to 2030, an increase of 13 percent, mainly in
sub-Saharan Africa (60 million hectares) and Latin America (40
Is the world
facing a water crisis?
investigated the water required for irrigation in developing
countries. We concluded that 14 percent more water will be
needed for irrigation by 2030 than at present.
The situation here is somehow comparable with that for
arable land -- some regions and countries have ample water
resources, while others are already experiencing shortages. We
estimate that by 2030, around 20 developing countries -- most of
them in the Near East, North Africa and South Asia -- will be
suffering from actual or impending water scarcity.
What will be the effect of climate change on
By 2030 the
global effects will probably still be relatively small. The
average global temperature could be 1 degree Celsius higher,
average rainfall and run-off could be 1.5 to 3 percent higher,
sea levels could be 15 to 20 cm higher. The most important
impact could come from the expected increased frequency and
intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods,
cyclones and storms.
At the regional level
the effects could be more pronounced. The extent of suitable
crop and grazing land will probably increase in the higher
latitudes, mainly in temperate zones, along with yields. The
countries in the lower latitudes, in particular in sub-Saharan
Africa, will be negatively affected. In addition, fisheries
resources in some seas could suffer from higher sea
temperatures, and low-lying coastal areas will suffer from
In short, the global
food production potential will not be much affected by climate
change before 2030, but food production in some already
vulnerable countries will be hindered. These countries should
therefore adapt to changed agroecological conditions. They need
economic growth and diversification to minimize their dependence
on vulnerable agricultural resources.
main and increasingly serious impacts of climate change on
agriculture will occur after 2030.
Many people say that eating less meat in rich
countries could help to reduce hunger in developing countries.
Do you agree with this argument?
This statement is based on the assumption that if
consumers in rich countries reduced their meat consumption,
cereals that are now used as animal feed would be freed up for
human consumption in the developing countries. This is unlikely
to be the case. Lower demand for feed grains in rich countries
would probably result in somewhat lower cereal production and
lower cereal prices. While lower prices could be good for poor
urban consumers, they are a disincentive for poor cereal
Actually, the use of cereals for
feed could be a good thing for food security. When there are
cereal shortages, cereal prices increase and livestock producers
divert to other feed resources, reducing feed use of cereals,
thus releasing cereals for food use. This means that cereal feed
use could act as a buffer, mitigating annual variations in
cereal prices and food use.
developing countries will need to import more cereals in future.
Will they be able to pay?
decades ago, the developing world as a whole was a substantial
net agricultural exporter, but it recently became a net
agricultural importer. We project the agricultural trade deficit
in the developing world to increase drastically over the period
to 2030. So, the question of paying for imports goes well beyond
'just' cereal imports.
all, many developing countries have developed their industry and
services sectors, becoming major exporters, so that now about 95
percent of their export earnings come from non-agricultural
exports. This generated the foreign exchange earnings to pay for
imports of the agricultural products in which the developed
countries have a comparative advantage, such as cereals and
Second, for many agricultural
products the trade flows between developing countries increased
enormously. To give an example: over the last 25 years, the net
exports of vegetable oils and oilseeds from the developing
countries as a whole remained about constant, on the order of 3
to 4 million tonnes. But net exports from developing countries
increased from 4 to 21 million tonnes, all of it going to other
developing countries that became increasingly big importers.
This is also the case for other commodities such as sugar and
natural rubber. We expect this process -- in which importing
developing countries provide an increasing market for exporting
developing countries -- to become even more important in the
future. For the exporting countries, this is another source of
foreign exchange earnings with which topay for imports from the
While we expect that
most developing countries will be able to pay for the projected
cereal imports, there will remain a number of countries, in
particular some least developed countries, that have no or very
few export opportunities and therefore will continue to need
assistance in the form of food aid or credits for commercial
How will globalization
affect poor countries in future?
Globalization offers potentially great benefits to
poor countries in the form of increased trade and foreign
investment and easier and faster access to information,
knowledge and production technology.
However, for countries to participate in and benefit
from globalization, certain conditions need to be in place.
These include a certain degree of openness to international
trade and foreign direct investment, appropriate infrastructure,
capacity to adapt foreign technological innovations to local
circumstances, etc. Equally important are policies providing
the right incentives to deal with adjustment problems. Such
policies are important, for instance, to mitigate the
potentially negative impacts of transnational enterprises.
Although such companies might provide a stimulus to upgrade
local skills and technologies, there is also a danger that they
might displace local producers and retailers.
Countries that fail to integrate their economies in
world markets will not only miss the benefits of globalization,
but also become increasingly marginalized. They may become
poorer -- perhaps not in an absolute sense but probably in a
How could poor
countries profit from trade in agricultural products?
Exports obviously generate foreign exchange
earnings, and imports are important to increase domestic supply
and variety of food items. For countries to benefit from trade,
clear rules are needed, and markets should not be distorted. The
Agreement on Agriculture concluded under the Uruguay Round of
trade negotiations was a first step in that direction, but much
more could be done.
What needs to be done
is fairly clear:
simplify access to markets
in OECD (industrialized) countries
tariffs in both OECD and developing countries, in particular for
production-enhancing subsidies in OECD countries
eliminate any discrimination against
agriculture in developing countries
sure that safety, environmental and other standards are not
used as protectionism in disguise.
Implementing these measures might harm some developing
countries temporarily, so adequate measures are therefore needed
to cope with adverse effects. For example, world market prices
might increase to the detriment of consumers in importing
countries, and this would call for safety nets and food
distribution schemes. Also, exporting developing countries might
initially not have the capacity to meet the food safety
standards set in OECD countries and this would justify technical
assistance to build up such capacity.