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Global food requirements in the year 2050 will depend on the size and nature of the world population, efforts to eliminate undernutrition and to what extent diets change. These variables must be considered when policy makers plan for the future in such areas as food production, trade and development assistance.

Projecting World Population Growth

During the period 1995 to 2050, the world's population is projected to increase by some 72 percent, from 5 700 million to 9 800 million people, then begin to stabilize. Calculating how much food this future population will require depends on:

In mid-1996, the world's population stood at 5.8 billion, growing by close to 07 million, 90 percent of this growth is concentrated in developing countries. Although overall population growth rates are slowing down, the populations of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia are still expanding by around 3 percent a year, enough to double their numbers in one generation.

Population growth - 1950 - 2050

Although it took 123 years for world population to grow from one billion to two billion, it took only 33 years for the third billion, 14 years for the fourth billion, and 13 years for the fifth billion. Eleven years later, sometime in 1998, the world will pass the six billion mark.

Asia has 3.5 billion, Africa just under 750 million, Latin America and the Caribbean close to 500 million inhabitants. By contrast, Europe has 727 million people and North America 295 million. Three-quarters of the world's population are concentrated in developing countries.

Changing Demographics, More Food

WHEN CALCULATING THE ENERGY REQUIREMENTS of a future population, factors such as the expected physical size of people and, to a small degree, by changes in the population's age structure, must be taken into consideration.

The aging of the population and its increase in height as a result of better nutrition will increase energy requirements whereas declining fertility and increasing urbanization (people are less physically active in cities than when working the land) will decrease energy requirements. Overall, these demographic changes mean that food requirements of developing countries as a whole may have to double in terms of plant-energy (see over for note on measurements) by 2050. Sub-Saharan Africa may have to more than triple plant energy production.

In addition, if the cherished goal of eliminating chronic undernutrition is to be achieved, it will require further increases in the requirements forof plant-derived Calories: 30 percent in Africa, 40 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 15 percent in Asia but less than 10 percent in Latin America.

Adoption of well-balanced diets in order to defeat malnutrition would require Africa to improve its plant-derived energy by a further 25 percent and Asia by 21 percent. Countries that consume mainly roots and tubers would have to increase plant-derived Calories by 46 percent.

Women - Key to Balancing Food and Population

Success in the struggle to feed increasing numbers of people will hinge on increased recognition and support for women's vital role both in increasing food production and in stabilizing population growth.

The bulk of the work on food produced for family and local consumption in the developing world falls to women. In sub-Saharan Africa, women grow and sell 80-90 percent of this food. They produce 60-90 percent of Asia's food, 46 percent of the Caribbean's and more than 30 percent of Latin America's.

Despite their critical contribution to food security, most countries do little to encourage women farmers: agricultural investment and technical assistance policies assume that recipients are men, and landholding and inheritance practices are biased in their favour.

At the same time women are frequently offered little support even in their recognized rote of child-bearing and rearing. Support for women's reproductive rights and reproductive health will have a decisive impact both on the growth and eventual size of world population and on health and nutritional status. The cycle of frequent pregnancies and increasing demands of child care diverts women from attention to nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, and often prevent them from joining rural development programmes and income generating projects.

Support for women will improve both reproductive health and nutrition at the level where improvement is most needed - that of the family and the community.

Contributed by UNFPA, excerpted from
The State of World Population 1996

Note on measurements

Food energy requirements are measured on the basis of plant energy or "plant-derived Calories" in order to easily factor in such variables as increased demand for meat and other animal products. Since all animals teed on plants, pant-derived calories" serve as common measurement of plant energy requirements to obtain food, whatever its source. For example, for cattle to produce a Calorie of beef for human consumption, they must consume 11 plant-derived Calories. Thus, a jump in beef consumption requires planners to calculate a major increase in food energy requirements.

Dietary patterns

The Effects of Changing Diets

Diet diversifications is likely to have a considerable effect on global food requirements by the year 2050. While plant energy consumption is expected to have declined in developed countries as people eat less meat and animal products, it will increase in those developing countries where economic growth is robust. Diets in the latter countries will become less rich in cereals but richer in meat seafood, fruits and vegetables.

Increased demand for animal products can be measured in plant derived Calories (See note on measurements) since such products depend heavily on such Calories. As a rough approximation, the production of one Calorie of beef requires 11 plant-derived Calories while poultry requires four plant-derived Calories.

In these calculations of future food requirement meets of a growing population, it is assumed that by the year 2050 developing countries will be consuming a diet in which 5 477 plant-derived Calories will be used to produce 3 040 consumable Calories. Such a diet is similar that of Mexico during the period 1988/90.

Achieving such a diet will require a 19 percent increase in available plant-derived Calories in developing countries over the period 1995-2050. However, regional variations will be significant. For example, the African continent as a whole will require a 23 percent increase while those African countries that depend mainly on cassava, yams or taro will need a 46 percent increase.

The Principal Diets

THE WORLD'S major diets have been classified for 119 countries on the map above.

Each diet class is named after the food that provides most of the food energy: rice (16 countries), maize (25 countries), wheat (25 countries), milk, meat and wheat (27 countries), millet and sorghum (5 countries) and cassava, yams, taro and plantain (roots and tubers, 21 countries).

The last diet class contains all the countries where the food situation is most critical and worsening. Although these populations have access to much unexploited land, they are poor, have high fertility and mortality rates, and live in countries with weak infrastructures.

Major Conclusions

FOOD NEEDS of the future will vary dramatically from region to region. Solutions will have to be tailored to each situation, which will require new approaches to such areas as production, trade and development assistance at national, regional and inter-regional levels.

Critical regions for food security by the middle of the next century are therefore projected to be Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
This fact sheet was prepared in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund

For further information, please contact:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.
Information Division, Tel: (39-6) 5225-3276/5225-4781/5225-4243.
Women and Population Division, Tel: (39-6) 5225-6421.
Internet or
United Nations Population Fund,
220 East 42nd St., New York, NY 10017, USA.
Tel. (212) 297 5020
Internet, or

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