ROME, 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.

FAO says that it will be possible to feed an additional 2 billion people by the year 2030. How will this be achieved?

We are facing an enormous challenge, but we are convinced that the world can feed more people.

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 undernourished.

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.

We expect that, globally, annual agricultural growth will decline from 2.2 percent over the last 30 years to 1.5 percent over the next 30 years.

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 land?

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.

But many 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 million hectares).

Is the world facing a water crisis?

We only 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 food production?

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 saltwater intrusion.

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.

The 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 producers.

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.

Many developing countries will need to import more cereals in future. Will they be able to pay?

A few 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.

First of 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 livestock.

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 developed countries.

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 imports.

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 relative sense.

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:

  • eliminate export subsidies
  • simplify access to markets in OECD (industrialized) countries
  • reduce tariffs in both OECD and developing countries, in particular for processed products
  • reduce production-enhancing subsidies in OECD countries
  • eliminate any discrimination against agriculture in developing countries
  • make 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.