Current UN projections indicate that world population could increase by more than two billion people from today’s levels, reaching 9.15 billion by 2050. Incomes will grow even faster. To meet increased demand, FAO projects that global agricultural production and consumption in 2050 will be 60 percent higher than in 2005/07. This is a smaller increase than the agriculture sector has achieved over the past half century; but it still poses a main challenge in terms of how it can be achieved sustainably.
Population and income growth will spur demand, but significant parts of the world will approach saturation of per capita consumption levels. Demand will increase in both developed and developing countries, even where current levels appear adequate and additional growth may cause health concerns. This may happen even in countries where undernourishment remains significant. By 2050, some 52 percent of the world’s population may live in countries where average calorie intake is more than 3 000 kcal/person/day, but the total number undernourished is expected to be still 318 million or 4 percent of world population in 2050. Many countries will have to face a double burden, of under-nourishment and mal-nourishment.
How is production expected to respond to this demand-side picture and what are the opportunities to be leveraged on that side? More than 85 percent of the expected increase in production by 2050 may derive from improved yields. Higher yields and cropping intensity are economically preferable, given competition for land for other uses; and yield growth has been the mainstay of historic production increases. Spare land, instead, is often not readily accessible due to lack of infrastructure and is concentrated in a small number of countries. Water is another critical resource, that contributed much to past yield production growth. While water resources are globally abundant, they are extremely scarce in the Near East and North Africa, and in northern China, where they are most needed.
Yields increases can raise income from farming, provided that adequate signals are transmitted through markets; and that the policy and market environment in which farmers operate is conducive. At the same time, they need to be achieved with sustainable and climate-smart practices, to avoid increasing the pressure of agriculture on natural resources. In several regions of the world there is room to increase factor productivity and incomes from agriculture without exerting additional pressure on natural resources. Investment in research and extension, however, must pursue these objectives, probably with more efforts compared to what has happened over the last decades.
More information at http://www.fao.org/economic/esa/esag/en
This thematic discussion was led by FAO and WFP in collaboration with “The World We Want”.
The consultation was facilitated by the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)