1. Food, agriculture and food security: developments since the World Food Conference and prospects

Technical background document

FAO, 1996

1. Introduction

1.1 The World Food Conference of 1974 was held in the very year that world market prices of cereals had reached a peak following the hefty increases of the year before. Three years later, world prices had fallen to below the levels of 1970, and indeed they were lower than at any year after 1950.

1.2 The widespread fear expressed at the time, that the world had entered a new era in which the growth of production would find it difficult to keep up with the growth of demand at non-increasing prices, proved to be unfounded. Indeed, the early 1970s ushered in an era of further declines in world food prices. It may be said that the world food problem reverted to being recognized for what it has always been: failure of effective demand on the part of people with inadequate nutrition to grow by as much as is required to raise their consumption to levels compatible with the elimination of food insecurity and undernutrition. In other words, developments in the post-World Food Conference years demonstrated that the world as a whole had the potential, if demand had grown faster, to increase production (at non-increasing prices) even faster than it actually did.

1.3 These developments put to rest, at least temporarily, the neo-Malthusian interpretation that world production could not grow fast enough to meet the effective demand for food of a growing global population. The notion that the world food problem was not one of production but instead one of demand and/or distribution gained currency. However, this notion confounds rather than clarifies and it can lead to error concerning what are appropriate policy responses. This is so because it is based on the paradigm of advanced societies, in which there is a fairly clear separation between demand and supply of food. In these societies, the great bulk of the demand for food is generated by people earning their incomes in activities other than food production. Farmers and their incomes account for only a minuscule proportion of total demand for food and access to imported food is not a problem. In such circumstances, it is proper to think that any existing food security problems have their roots in the inadequate growth of demand and are not problems of production. The situation is different in the majority of the low-income countries, where the bulk of the population depends on agriculture and there is no clear-cut separation between demand and supply of food. In such cases, inadequate growth of demand reflects that of incomes of most of the population whose very incomes depend on the growth of agriculture itself. Given that the food insecurity problem is concentrated in these countries, it is proper to speak of it as being a problem of production, even if world markets fail to express it in the form of rising prices.

1.4 In conclusion, as long as the essence of the world food problem is the high incidence of food insecurity and undernutrition precisely in the countries with low per caput food supplies and high dependence on agriculture, there can be no appropriate policy responses to it that do not include a hefty dose of measures to improve agricultural and rural development in order to increase both demand and the supply of food in those very countries, at least not at this stage of their development. An idea of the countries that combine these characteristics, i.e. those that have a high share of the rural population in the total population and low levels of per caput food supplies, can be had from the data in Table 4. Countries in this class are generally those in the upper left quadrant of the table.

1.5 This paper, by necessity very brief, concentrates on describing the evolution of the world food security situation in the last three decades (Section 2) and highlights the main factors that explain successes and failures (Section 3). It then goes on to describe what may be the evolution over the period up to 2010 in the minimum amount of detail required to put in evidence the possible trajectories of the key variables (Sections 4 and 5). Finally, selected issues of sustainability and the environment are considered in relation to the quest for sustainable responses to the world food security problem (Section 6).

1.6 This paper is one of a series of technical background documents prepared for the World Food Summit. It is not comprehensive in its coverage of the manifold dimensions of the food security problem nor exhaustive in the treatment of the aspects it covers. A more comprehensive treatment can be found in the 500-page FAO study entitled World agriculture: towards 2010 (WAT2010) (FAO, 1995), while discussion and analysis of individual topics are to be found in the other technical background documents.


2. Historical developments and the present situation

Tracking the evolution of the food security situation through time

2.1 There are two interrelated variables that can be used for this purpose:

The first is the per caput availability of food for direct human consumption (also called per caput food supplies). It is the only variable for which data, admittedly of varying quality, are available for all countries from 1961 to 1992. It can be used to construct the pattern of world distribution (over countries) of food supplies to show what part of the world's population lives in countries with given levels of per caput food supplies for direct food consumption. Such information would make it possible to draw inferences about changes through time. For example, statements such as the following can be made: In the early 1960s, 1.6 billion people (50 percent of the world's population) lived in countries with very low per caput food supplies (under 2 100 Calories per day), while today - that is, in the three-year average from 1990 to 1992 - only 410 million people (8 percent of the world's population) live in countries in this class.

The second variable concerns the distribution of the food supplies within each country, i.e. given the national average of the preceding variable, what proportion of a country's population has access to any given level of per caput food supplies. One such relevant level for food security analysis is that of per caput food supplies (Calories/day) equal to 1.55 times the basal metabolic rate (BMR). If a person's access to food is below this level, he/she may be classified as chronically undernourished. It results that, from 1969 to 1971, 900 million people in the developing countries (35 percent of their total population) could be so classified. By 1988-1990, the proportion had fallen to 20 percent, but there were still about 800 million undernourished people, given that the population of the developing countries had in the meantime increased from 2.6 to 4.1 billion.

2.2 The time frame used here to present the historical evolution of the food security situation is influenced by two factors:

The World Food Conference documents (United Nations, 1974) described the aspects of the food security situation related to per caput food supplies up to 1969-1971, because this was the latest three-year average for which relevant data were available. Therefore, in what follows, the starting-point for describing the evolution in the post-World Food Conference period is the three-year average 1969-1971.

It is also relevant to the issue at hand to describe the evolution in per caput food supplies in the decade of the 1960s, because this was the period that had shaped thinking about the fundamentals of success, failure, persisting problems and required policy responses. This is not to deny that the food shortages and world market upheavals that precipitated the food crisis in 1972-1974 had a profound influence on perceptions of the food security problem. But a brief review of developments during the decade preceding the World Food Conference will help put in perspective differences between the pre- and post-conference periods.

Box 1

Per caput food supplies for direct human consumption: the variable for diagnosing the extent of food insecurity

Available food supplies for direct human consumption are estimated in the framework of food balance sheets (FBS) on the basis of countries' reports on food production and trade data, which for several of them inevitably imply that their per caput food supplies are totally inadequate for good nutrition. The parameters for the latter are well known, though not devoid of controversy. In the first place, there is the amount of food or dietary energy supply (DES) that is needed for the human body to function (breathe, pump blood, etc.) even without allowing for movement or activity. This is the basal metabolic rate (BMR). It is in the general range 1 300 to 1 700 Calories per day for adults in different conditions (age, sex, height, body weight). Taking the age/sex structure and body weights of the adult populations of the different developing countries, their national average BMRs are defined. Making an allowance for the growth requirements of children, the amount of energy as a national average per person that must be actually absorbed if all people were in a state of rest, or "in bed" as the nutritionists put it, is estimated.

Adding an allowance for light activity, estimated to be about 55 percent of the BMR, results in a range of between 1 720 and 1 960 Calories per person per day for the different developing countries. It follows that population groups in which an average individual has an intake below this level (the threshold) are undernourished because they do not eat enough to maintain health, body weight and engage in light activity. The result is physical and mental impairment, characteristics that are evidenced in the anthropometric surveys.

Add to this threshold an allowance for moderate activity and the result is an estimate of the national average requirement, which for the different developing countries is situated in the range from 2 000 to 2 310 Calories per person per day. In principle, a country having per caput DES at the national average requirement level would have no undernutrition problem provided the total food supply were accruing to each person exactly according to his/her respective requirements. However, this is never the case; some people consume (or have access to) more food than their respective moderate activity requirements ¹ and other people less. Thus, an allowance must be made to generate an estimate of average supplies so that enough food accrues to the persons at the bottom end of the distribution chain since those in the higher ranges will, by definition, consume more than their moderate activity requirements. Empirical evidence suggests that, even at moderate levels of inequality (a coefficient of variation of 0.2, meaning that the average difference of the food intake of individuals from the national average - the standard deviation - is 20 percent of the latter), the national average requirement must be increased by about 28 percent to allow for this factor of unequal access and ensure that practically no one is left with food intake below the threshold level. This brings the thus adjusted average requirement to a range of 2 600 to 2 950 Calories for the different developing countries depending on the threshold level corresponding to the population structures (age/sex/body weight) for 1990-1992.

These numbers, or norms, are, therefore, a first guide to assessing the extent of this key dimension of food insecurity, that is, the adequacy or otherwise of food availabilities. Indeed, the DES is the principal variable used to generate estimates of the incidence of undernutrition as explained elsewhere (FAO, 1996). Numerous countries fall below the norm of the adjusted average requirement, and, in many cases, by considerable margins. Therefore, even if nothing more is known about the incidence of undernutrition, the inevitable conclusion is that such incidence cannot be anything but significant, ranging from moderate to high or very high in the different countries, even when inequality of access to food is moderate. It follows that progress towards reducing or eliminating undernutrition must manifest itself, in the first place, in the form of increased per caput DES. Naturally, this is not equivalent to saying that the DES is itself a policy variable that can be operated upon directly. But changes in this variable do signal the direction and magnitude of movement towards improved or worsened food security status.

In this connection, reference must be made to the often-raised question of just how reliable are the FBS data, which in many cases show very low levels of food availabilities. The answer is: they are as reliable as the primary data on production and trade supplied by the countries. It is these data that are processed in the form of the FBS to derive the indicators of per caput food supplies used here. Given the primary data, the conclusion that many countries are in a difficult food security situation follows logically and inevitably.

1 Including those engaged in heavy work, e.g. a man in this class requires 3 500 Calories per day.

2.3 Finally, it is to be noted that, throughout the period under review, rapid population growth in the developing countries and very slow growth in the developed countries meant that 88 percent of the increase in world population in the last three decades was in the developing countries and that the share of the developing countries in world population increased from 68 percent in 1961-1963 to 77 percent in 1990-1992. What is more important for the evolution of the food security situation are the changes in the numbers of people living in countries with different levels of per caput food supplies. The data in Table 2 present this evolution, while those in Table 3 give estimates of the evolution of the incidence of chronic undernutrition by developing region.

Developments leading up to the World Food Conference

The situation a decade before the World Food Conference

2.4 At the beginning of the 1960s, the world's per caput food supplies for direct food consumption stood at 2 300 Calories per day, very unequally distributed: an average of 3 030 Calories for the developed countries and only 1 960 Calories for the developing nations (Table 1). Most developed countries had per caput food supplies of around 3 000 Calories per day, but with some notable exceptions, e.g. some countries in southern Europe. But only a handful of developing countries had per caput food supplies over 2 500 Calories per day and only about 100 million people (5 percent of the developing countries' population) lived in such countries (Table 2). The bulk of the population of the developing countries (1.6 billion, 75 percent of the total) was in countries with under 2 100 Calories per day and their average was only 1 835 Calories. There were, at the time, only three developing countries with populations of over 100 million (China, India and Indonesia, having together 1.2 billion people) and all three were in the under-2 100 Calories class. The average of 1 835 Calories per day of the 1.6 billion people in these countries is not much above the 1.55 BMR level used for defining chronic undernutrition. Even assuming that the inequality in the distribution of available food supplies in these countries was not very high, it follows that the majority of the population was bound to have had access to food below the threshold of chronic undernutrition. Thus, even without estimates of the incidence of chronic undernutrition at that time, it can be deduced that, in the early 1960s, such incidence must have been rampant, affecting a high proportion of the developing countries' populations, perhaps over 50 percent.

2.5 At the time, the pattern of large imports of cereals from the developed countries had not been established as it is today. The cereals self-sufficiency of the developing countries was high (97 percent) but at the cost of very low consumption. Net imports were 18 million tonnes, about 2 percent of cereals consumption or 8.4 kg per person for a population of 2.1 billion (these numbers today are 89 million tonnes, 9 percent of consumption and 22 kg per caput for a population of 4 billion).

Developments to the early 1970s

2.6 Ten years later, the situation in the developing countries had improved somewhat, but not by much, with average per caput food supplies having risen from 1 965 to 2 135 Calories per day. This was a period when food consumption in the developed countries was also growing fairly rapidly. Indeed their per caput food supplies rose by an increment equal to that of the developing countries, even though they had started from 3 030 Calories in the early 1960s. Thus, the gap of per caput food supplies of the two groups of countries was maintained at about 1 000 Calories per day, which is huge for this variable that would not normally move, for physiological reasons, outside the range of 1 700 to 3 500 Calories for country averages.

2.7 That only marginal progress had been made in the developing countries can also be seen from the fact that the number of people living in countries with under 2 100 Calories per day had risen to 1.75 billion. China, India, Indonesia - still the only three countries with populations of over 100 million - remained in that class. Estimates for the incidence of undernutrition for 1969-1971 on the basis of the 1.55 BMR threshold indicate that 35 percent (900 million people) of the population of the developing countries was classified as chronically undernourished.

2.8 The potential of the developing countries for importing food from the developed countries had remained extremely limited, with 1969-1971 self-sufficiency in cereals still being 96 percent, net imports only slightly above those of the early 1960s (20 millions tonnes) and actually lower in per caput terms (7.7 kg).

Developments since the World Food Conference: developing countries

The 1970s

2.9 For several developing countries and for three out of the five regions, the 1970s was a decade of improvement faster than that of the 1960s or of the subsequent 1980s (Table 1). Per caput food supplies increased and some developing countries edged upwards towards medium-high levels. The incidence of chronic undernutrition declined from 35 to 27 percent of the population, although it remained stubbornly high in absolute numbers because the total population had increased. Among the countries with a population of over 100 million, only India failed to make much progress in raising per caput food supplies more than marginally. In contrast, both China and Indonesia made significant progress, mainly in the latter part of the 1970s. Brazil, which had also made progress, was added to the group of countries with populations exceeding 100 million by the end of the 1970s.

2.10 But the 1970s was the decade when the differentiation between developing countries and regions, already evident in the 1960s, became more pronounced. Per caput food supplies stagnated at very low levels in South Asia and they actually declined in sub-Saharan Africa, reflecting declines in some major countries of the region that were only partly compensated for by gains in some smaller countries (such as Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon and Mauritius). In contrast, there were significant increases in the averages of the other three regions, the Near East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and East Asia, though the latter's per caput food supplies were still at the lower-middle level by the end of the 1970s. But there were countries that failed to make progress and remained at very low levels or experienced declines also in these better-performing regions: Afghanistan and Yemen in the Near East and North Africa; Bolivia, Haiti, Honduras and Peru in Latin America and the Caribbean; and Cambodia and Viet Nam in East Asia.

2.11 But perhaps what distinguishes the 1970s from the preceding and subsequent decades is the fact that part of the improvements in per caput food supplies of the developing countries came from the rapid growth of food imports from the developed countries. Net imports of cereals more than tripled between 1969-1971 and 1979-1981 to 67 million tonnes and self-sufficiency fell from 96 to 91 percent. In practice, over 20 percent of the increase in the apparent consumption of cereals in the developing countries came from the growth of net imports.

The 1980s

2.12 Progress in raising per caput food supplies in the developing countries as a whole continued rapidly up to about the mid-1980s and at a slower rate afterwards. Sub-Saharan Africa experienced further declines, there was virtually no further progress in Latin America and the Caribbean and only a modest advancement, by historical standards, in the Near East and North Africa. But progress continued in East Asia and, significantly, in the late 1980s South Asia joined the regions making progress, as both India and Pakistan broke out of the 2 000 to 2 200 Calories range to over 2 300 Calories. Preliminary FBS data for up to 1994 indicate that further gains have been made in these two countries. The progress in Asia, the most populous region with 2.8 billion people (70 percent of the developing-country total), was sufficient to lead to further gains in the indicators used here. The incidence of chronic undernutrition had also declined to 20 percent of the population, but only by a little in absolute numbers (Table 3). The 1970s trend of rapid growth of food imports by the developing countries was not sustained in the 1980s. Their net imports of cereals increased to only 89 million tonnes in 1989-1991 (22 kg/caput) and self-sufficiency remained at 91 percent, the same as ten years earlier.

Table 3

Estimates and projections of the incidence of chronic
undernutrition in developing countries1

1 Ninety-three developing countries of the FAO study World agriculture: towards 2010 (WAT2010) (FAO,1995), accounting for 98.5 percent of the total population of the developing countries. The estimates presented in The sixth world food survey (FAO, 1996) are slightly different because they refer to all developing countries.

2 The estimates and projections of chronic undernutrition are somewhat different from those reported in the documents of the 1992 International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) (FAO, 1992, p. 7) and WAT2010 (FAO, 1995, p. 84) for the following reasons: revisions of the historical data and 2010 projections of per caput food supplies (see Table 1, note 2); the total populations (mainly the projections) are different since they are from the 1992 United Nations assessment (5 668 million in 2010), while the earlier data were from the 1990 United Nations assessment (5 758 million in 2010); and, in the present estimates, the undernutrition thresholds shown in this table vary over time to take into account changes in age/sex composition of the population (in the earlier estimates it was the same for all years). These changes mean that the threshold for a typical developing country will be higher in the future because the share of adults, whose minimum energy requirements are higher than those of children, will increase in the total population following the ageing of the population as a result of declining fertility.

2.13 The 1980s were characterized by two significant changes in the growth paths of world food production: after the mid-1980s, aggregate world cereals production grew much more slowly than before and it actually declined in per caput terms from the mid-1980s peak of just over 340 kg; and the world production of fish from capture fisheries (including fish, crustaceans, molluscs, etc.) peaked in 1989 at about 89 million tonnes and by 1993 had declined to 84 to 86 million tonnes, rising again to 90 million tonnes in 1994. While the slow-down in world cereals production reflects some transitory factors (discussed below), the stagnation in the capture fisheries is not temporary, but rather reflects some deep-seated structural characteristics of the resource and the way it is being exploited, the latter having much to do with the open- or semi-open access regimes prevalent in the sector. However, declines in the capture fisheries from their 1989 peak have been made up to a large extent by increases in aquaculture production, which, in the last ten years, added about 1 million tonnes per year to aggregate fish production. In the end, aggregate production from capture fisheries and aquaculture was higher in 1994 (110 million tonnes) than in 1989 (100 million tonnes).

The first half of the 1990s

2.14 At the time of writing (mid-1996), the world food security situation is characterized by a tight demand-supply balance in world cereals markets, reduced stocks, high prices and falling food aid flows. The hardship this causes to the low-income countries that depend on imported food for a significant part of their consumption is obvious, particularly when food aid or other concessional imports play a major role. Current forecasts for 1996 world crop production indicate that it will be sufficient to match the coming year's consumption but not enough to replenish stocks. Thus, the situation will remain sensitive to further shocks, which means that, for the low-income food-importing countries, the risky world market environment will persist.

2.15 However, the developments in recent years, particularly the declines in world per caput production of cereals, need to be interpreted with caution as not all of them are signals of a permanent reversal of trends. This is because they are, to a considerable degree, the result of a confluence of some special circumstances, such as the production declines in the countries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (production in the three-year average 1993-1995 was 151 million tonnes, down from 184 million tonnes in the preceding three-year average 1990-1992), the reforms in major exporting countries away from policies that in the past used to generate quasi-structural surpluses (European Union-15 production was 178 million tonnes in 1993-1995 compared with 188 million tonnes in 1990-1992) and the coincidence of weather-induced production declines (United States' production was 295 million tonnes in 1993-1995, down from 312 million tonnes in 1990-1992, all figures include rice in milled form). Among these factors, the only one that points to a permanent reversal of the historical trends that maintained an easy balance in world cereals markets may be the policy reforms away from the generation of quasi-structural surpluses in major exporting countries. Further discussion of recent developments in a longer-term context is provided in the conclusions at the end of this paper.

Stability and durability of gains in food security

2.16 In addition to the many developing countries that failed to make much progress in raising per caput food supplies above the 1 900 to 2 200 Calorie level or experienced outright declines, there were those that did make significant progress at some stage in their development but then failed to maintain the gains made. Perhaps what distinguishes the developed from the developing countries is the latter's lack of resilience in maintaining past gains in per caput food supplies in the presence of shocks (including war or war-like conditions) or the onset of more deep-seated economic distress. The high share of total income spent on food in these countries means that income declines translate into reductions in the demand for food. It also means that food shortages and rising prices translate into significant declines in incomes, in a vicious-circle pattern.

An overview of food production growth rates and net cereal imports in the developing countries

2.17 Numerous developing countries failed to make progress in raising per caput food production in the post-World Food Conference period, with the majority of them registering outright declines in the period from 1972 to 1992. The growth rates of per caput food production for this period in the individual countries are shown in parentheses in Table 4. The high frequency of negative growth rates in the countries with a great dependence on agriculture and low per caput food supplies is evident (upper left quadrant of Table 4). At the same time, few of these countries were able to compensate for the production declines through food imports. This is evidenced by the generally low levels of per caput net imports of cereals (including food aid), which are also shown in parentheses in Table 4.

2.18 In the post-World Food Conference period, the growth of yields was the mainstay of production increases for the main food crops, particularly wheat, rice, soybean and, to a lesser extent, maize. But yield growth was very slow in the other main rain-fed coarse grains. Relevant data are shown in Table 9 together with the projections. In addition, the records in raising yields for selected countries are shown in Table 12. The point is made later that the yield differences between countries increased in the post-World Food Conference period, as the countries with better resource endowments made rapid progress while this was rarely the case for those countries that had started the 1970s with very low yields.

The overall evolution in the developed countries

2.19 As noted, the developed countries as a whole started the 1960s with food supplies per caput of just over 3 000 Calories per day. At this level, food security problems of the type that plagued the developing countries, that is, those linked to widespread abject poverty and evidenced by the very low per caput food supplies, should not have existed to any considerable extent. In conclusion, these countries as a group had already reached, ten years before the World Food Conference, the stage where aggregate food supplies were sufficient to ensure diets with adequate energy content for all. There was still considerable scope for diversification away from staples and towards the diets characteristic of rich societies. This is indeed the path then followed by the developed countries as a group.

2.20 It must be noted, however, that, notwithstanding the adequacy of per caput food supplies for the developed countries as a whole, pockets of poverty and inadequate food security probably existed then as they do today and some countries classified as developed, mainly in southern Europe, had per caput food supplies still well below 3 000 Calories per day. This latter problem still persists today, or has even become more pronounced, in a number of the economies in transition, particularly some of the Asian states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Indeed, the most recent United Nations country classification (in the 1994 demographic assessment) places eight of the republics created from the former USSR in the less-developed regions.

2.21 The shift of the developing countries to become major net importers of cereals, particularly in the 1970s, was mirrored in the increasing export orientation of cereals production in the main exporting developed countries of North America and Oceania. This pattern was accentuated by the emergence of the group of former centrally planned economies (CPEs) as a major net importer, while Japan was also increasing rapidly its net imports. Thus, between 1969-1971 and 1979-1981, the production of cereals in North America and Australia increased by 105 million tonnes (41 percent), of which 95 million tonnes went to increase their net exports. Australia's cereals production grew more than threefold.

2.22 At the same time, Western Europe was following support policies to increase its production and self-sufficiency and substitute for imports. These policies set the stage for Western Europe's emergence as an additional major net exporting region of cereals in the 1980s.1 These developments demonstrate that these regions were able to create the capacity to increase production quickly, admittedly often with hefty subsidies from their taxpayers and/or consumers, to respond, with only small time-lags, to spurts in world market demand in order to meet consumption growth in the countries where the potential for fast growth in consumption was still considerable and often manifested itself in the form of spurts in effective demand as soon as growth in incomes and import capacity so permitted.2 This is another way of saying that, in the period up to the early 1990s, food insecurity problems had reflected inadequate growth in demand rather than constraints to increase production. But this statement applies only when the world is considered as one homogeneous area. This is not always the case, however, and, as noted, in many local situations it is production constraints that stand in the way of improving food security.


Table 4

3. Main factors in the historical evolution of per caput food supplies

The correlates of success in raising per caput food supplies

3.1 The main characteristics of the historical evolution that probably explain much of the progress made by several countries in raising per caput food supplies may be summarized as follows:

All of them had above-average economic growth rates, as evidenced by the growth rates in their per caput incomes. This seems to be the most prevalent common characteristic of these countries.

In most countries, there was a spurt in the growth of food imports, particularly in the period of rapid gains in per caput food supplies, as evidenced by the increases in per caput net imports of cereals. This meant rapid declines in their cereals self-sufficiency, although there were exceptions. In particular, China and Indonesia did not follow this pattern as their own agricultures grew to provide the additional food supplies and, most probably, this was a key factor in raising per caput incomes.

A contributing factor to the nutritional improvement in this group of countries has been the fact, already noted earlier, that global agriculture provided readily and without much strain the food imports that underpinned the growth of their consumption, mostly in the 1970s.

Domestic agricultural growth was an essential ingredient in the process of increasing per caput food supplies, by providing supplies, income and employment and by supporting economic growth and the balance of payments. China's experience in the post-reform period after 1978 seems to conform to this pattern. It was less important in countries where agriculture was only a small sector of the economy on which a relatively small share of the population depended for a living and where much of the gains in economic growth and import capacity derived from the non-agricultural sector, particularly from non-agricultural commodity sectors.

In several countries, much of the quantum improvement in per caput food supplies was achieved in a relatively short period of time, in most cases, approximately ten years. However, as noted, such gains did not always prove durable. There are examples of countries where improvement and retrogression of per caput food supplies follow the commodity boom-and-bust cycles. It is, therefore, possible that the food and nutrition gains will tend to prove more durable in countries where the circumstances that brought them about are part of wider economic and social transformations, such as China and the Republic of Korea. The same probably holds for countries in which the windfalls from commodity booms are put to good use to bring about such transformations.

The correlates of failure and retrogression

3.2 At the other extreme, the study of the experiences of the many countries that, starting from low initial conditions 30 years ago, failed to make progress or suffered outright declines, should provide some insights into the reasons for failure. The study of the relevant data from a sample of these countries leads to the following conclusions:

For the great majority of these countries, it could have been predicted that the food situation would be dire even before looking at the data. Many of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, a fact that by itself reveals much, given the overall economic and agricultural stagnation that has been plaguing the region for some time now. Add to this the fact that many of these countries, both in Africa and elsewhere, have suffered or are still going through severe disruptions caused by war and political disturbances, and what results, in a nutshell, is the explanation for failure and retrogression on the food and nutrition front.3

The data do no more than confirm this impressionistic prediction (see Table 4). Indeed, the most common characteristics of these countries are declines in per caput incomes as well as in per caput production. The two are not, of course, independent of each other. Their per caput food imports did increase, often by means of food aid. However, in contrast to the experiences of the countries in the preceding category, their per caput imports of cereals remained at generally modest levels, while the declines in cereals self-sufficiency were accordingly contained, at the cost, of course, of stagnant or declining per caput food supplies.


4. Prospects to 2010: demand, supply, trade and nutrition

4.1 This section presents in summary form the future prospects for the main food and agriculture variables, with particular reference to the prospects for the developing countries, as derived in the FAO study World agriculture: towards 2010 (WAT2010) (FAO, 1995). The study's results for 2010 present the possible future outcomes as they may turn out to be rather than as they ought to be if certain normative objectives are achieved, e.g. the elimination of undernutrition. For example, the conclusion that significant chronic undernutrition is likely to persist results from this positive, rather than normative, approach to looking into the future. Therefore the prospective developments presented here are not goals of an FAO strategy. Instead, they identify areas of progress and failure in the future and can inform the debate about the needed policy interventions that are discussed in the companion papers.

Continuing, but slower, growth in world population

4.2 Over the time horizon of the study, the world's population may grow to 7.2 billion (or to 7.0 billion according to the latest United Nations projections),4 up from 5.3 billion in 1990 and 3.7 billion only 20 years earlier. Ninety-four percent of the total increment in world population, or 1.8 billion people (1.6 billion in the latest projection), will occur in the developing countries. Moreover, the regional patterns of population growth are very disparate, e.g. 3.2 percent per year in sub-Saharan Africa (reduced to 2.9 percent annually in the latest revision of the demographic projections) and 1.2 percent per year in East Asia. But the growth rate of world population is on the decline. It peaked in 1965-1970 at 2.1 percent annually and declined progressively to 1.6 percent per year, where it now stands. It is projected to decline further, to 1.3 percent by 2005-2010 and then to 1.0 percent by 2020-2025.

4.3 The demographic trends in the developing countries, in combination with their still low levels of per caput food consumption, would require continued strong growth in their food supplies. Not all of these additional needs will be expressed as effective market demand. The aggregate increase in the food supplies of the developing countries is likely to be less than required to raise average per caput supplies to levels compatible with food security for all. This is because the general development scene is likely to leave many developing countries and population groups with neither per caput incomes nor potential for access to food much above present levels.

Better prospects for overall economic growth in the developing countries but with significant exceptions

4.4 In the crisis decade of the 1980s, all developing regions experienced declines in per caput incomes, with the important exception of Asia, both East and South. It is likely that these trends will be reversed in the future. The latest World Bank assessment (World Bank, 1996) indicates that Asia should continue to perform at fairly high rates of economic growth while the prospects are for modest recovery in both Latin America and the Caribbean and the Near East and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is also expected to shift to higher economic growth rates compared with the disastrous 1980s, but its per caput income will grow only slightly. These developments in the overall economy already foreshadow the prospect that some regions will continue to make progress towards food security while others may not make much progress.

4.5 The Western developed countries are likely to continue to perform as in the past. The prospects for the former CPEs are mixed. Central and Eastern Europe economies had together in 1994 and 1995 the fastest real GDP growth (above 4 percent) in Europe. The CIS only started to bottom out, from a real GDP level about one-half (53 percent) of its 1989 level. It may take a long time before sustained growth re-establishes per caput incomes at the pre-reform levels for the entire region.

World agricultural growth will continue to slow down

4.6 The detailed assessments of production, together with those of demand and trade, indicate that the growth rate of world agricultural production at 1.8 percent per year (and 0.25 percent per year in per caput terms)5 will be lower in the period up to 2010 compared with that of the past. This slow-down is largely a continuation of long-term historical trends. World production grew at 3.0 percent per annum in the 1960s, 2.3 percent per annum in the 1970s and 2.0 percent per annum from 1980 to 1992. The slow-down is not a negative outcome per se to the extent that it reflects some positive developments in the world demographic and development scenes: the decline in the growth rate of world population and the fact that more and more countries have been raising their per caput food consumption to levels beyond which there is limited scope for further increases. Most developed countries (which account for some 50 percent of world consumption of agricultural products) are in this class and they are being gradually joined by some developing countries. To put it in plain language, people who have money to buy more food do not need to do so, although they will probably continue to increase their expenditure on food to pay for the ever-increasing margins of marketing, processing, packaging and the services that go with them.

4.7 The negative aspect of the slow-down has to do with the fact that it has been happening and will continue to happen while many countries and a significant part of the world population still have totally inadequate consumption levels and access to food, with a consequent persistence of high levels of undernutrition. In short, the slow-down in world agricultural growth is also a result of the fact that people who would consume more do not have sufficient incomes to demand more food and cause it to be produced. World output could expand at higher rates than envisaged in the study if effective demand were to grow faster.

Progress in food and nutrition, but not for all

4.8 The implications of the demographic and overall development prospects, together with the assessments of the study for production, consumption and trade, are that per caput food supplies for direct human consumption in the developing countries as a whole will continue to grow, from the 2 500 Calories of 1990-1992 to nearly 2 800 Calories by the year 2010, also taking into account the fact that the projected population may be lower than that used originally in the FAO study WAT2010 (Table 1). It is expected that by the year 2010 the Near East and North Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean regions, as well as East Asia (including China), will be at or above the 3 000 Calorie mark, a significant progress particularly for East Asia. Although South Asia may also make significant progress, in 2010 it would still be at a middling position. However, per caput food supplies in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to remain at very low levels.

4.9 Under the circumstances, the incidence of chronic undernutrition could decline to 10 percent or less of the population in the three regions with the better prospects (Table 3). Progress will probably also be made in South Asia, although there could still be some 200 million people undernourished in the region by the year 2010. Chronic undernutrition is likely to remain rampant in sub-Saharan Africa, with 30 percent of the population (265 million) affected. Thus, the scourge of chronic undernutrition in terms of absolute numbers affected will tend to shift from South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa. These estimates are broad orders of magnitude and relative trends rather than precise predictions of what may happen, subject to the necessary caveats. They indicate that it is probable that chronic undernutrition in the developing countries as a whole will persist, perhaps at lower absolute levels: some 680 million people in the year 20106 versus about 840 million people today. Therefore, there will be no respite from the need for interventions to cope with the problem nor from the need to seek the eradication of poverty, the root cause of undernutrition.

Prospects for major commodities

World production of cereals to continue to grow, but not in per caput terms

4.10 An overview of the cereals sector - past history and projections - is given in Table 5. Global per caput production of cereals grew from 303 kg in 1969-1971 to a peak of 342 kg in 1984-1986 but then declined to 327 kg in 1989-1991, virtually the level of ten years earlier. It is probable that the average will not increase further and will still be 327 kg in 2010. This is, however, no cause for general alarm for the reasons discussed earlier in connection with the progressive slow-down in world agricultural growth. In particular, the consumption requirements for all uses in the developed countries (which have total use of cereals per caput of 620 kg and account for 45 percent of world consumption) only grow slowly and may fall in per caput terms. Collectively, these countries produce only as much as is needed for their own consumption and to meet the increase in net exports to the developing countries. They could produce more if more were demanded. These prospects are heavily influenced by possible developments in the former CPEs of Central and Eastern Europe, whose total domestic use of cereals may actually be lower in 2010 than in the pre-reform period. This possible development has its origin in the prospect that per caput consumption of livestock products may not recover fully to the pre-reform levels, that there is significant scope for economies in the use of cereals as feed and that post-harvest losses could be reduced significantly.

4.11 The recent decline in the world per caput production of cereals has been interpreted by some as indicating a structural change for the worse in the world food trends caused by increasingly binding constraints on the side of production. However, the circumstances that have caused the decline since the mid-1980s are, as noted earlier, mostly of a transitory nature. Therefore, the decline may not be interpreted as signalling the onset of constraints on the production side that made it difficult to meet the growth of effective demand. The real problem must be seen in the too-slow growth of effective demand on the part of those countries and population groups with low levels of food consumption.

4.12 The preceding discussion indicates that the world average per caput production has only limited value for measuring trends in world food security. It can also be misleading if it conveys the idea that, with the world average constant, any gains in per caput production of one group of countries must be counterbalanced by declines in another group. This need not be the case. It was not so in the 1980s and it will not likely be so in the future. Per caput production is projected to increase in both the developed and the developing countries while the world average may remain at the 327 kg of 1989-1991 (Table 5). This paradox is a result of the fact that the developing countries start with low per caput production and have high population growth rates while the developed countries are in the opposite situation.

Table 5

4.13 Indeed, per caput production of cereals in the developing countries is expected to continue to grow, from the 214 kg in 1989-1991 to 230 kg in 2010, 16 kg in two decades. This is a smaller increment than was achieved in the past: about 15 kg per decade in the 1970s and the 1980s. But their per caput consumption for all uses may grow faster than production, from 237 to 258 kg, part of which would be for feed to support the rapidly growing livestock sector. This will require further growth of net imports from the developed countries, which may increase from the 89 million tonnes of 1989-1991 to about 160 million tonnes in 2010. The implied rate of growth of the net import requirements is not particularly high if judged by the historical record. It is more like that of the 1980s rather than the very rapid growth rate of the 1970s. Financing increased food imports may be considered a normal feature of those developing countries in which both incomes and consumption, particularly of livestock products, grow while other sectors generate foreign-exchange earnings. But those developing countries that cannot easily finance increased food imports from scarce foreign-exchange earnings will face hardship. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect a continued role for food aid for a long time to come. If policy reforms towards a more market-oriented international agricultural trade system were to limit the scope for food aid from surpluses, alternative measures would be required to meet the needs. In this respect, the decision included in the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations concerning measures to attenuate the effects on the food-importing developing countries of an eventual rise in world market prices and the creation of conditions for food security stocks as well as continuation of food aid flows assumes particular importance.

Modest growth in the demand for exports of cereals from the major exporting developed regions

4.14 Although the prospects for further growth of exports of cereals from the major exporting developed countries to the developing countries offer some scope for further growth of production and exports by the former, their net exports to the rest of the world are expected to grow by much less. This is because the group of former CPEs (of Europe) would probably cease to be a large net importer in the future and there is a possibility that it could turn into a modest net exporter of cereals by 2010 (Table 5). Already, the preliminary data and forecasts for the two-year average 1994/95-1995/96 (July/June) indicate that their net imports have collapsed to only 2 million tonnes.

4.15 There might be significant changes in the market shares in these total net exports of the three major exporting OECD areas, Western Europe, North America and Oceania. Current and future policy reforms, particularly in the context of the provisions of the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) of the Uruguay Round, will probably lead to Western Europe not increasing its net exports from the levels of the late 1980s, with all of the additional combined exports of the three groups, and perhaps more, accruing to North America and Oceania. At least this is what is indicated by the results of most analyses concerning the possible effects of the policy reforms. These findings are, of course, subject to the many caveats attached to the assumptions and models on which these analyses are based.

Continuing strong growth in the livestock sector

4.16 The past trend of the livestock sector in developing countries to grow at a relatively high rate is set to continue, although in attenuated form. Part of the growth in their cereal imports will be for increased production and consumption of livestock products. However, the consumption of livestock products in the developing countries will still be well below that of the developed countries in per caput terms in the year 2010. These averages for the developing countries mask wide regional and country diversities, and in both South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa consumption will generally remain at very low levels.

4.17 The livestock sector of the developed countries may also grow, but at much slower rates compared with the past, with per caput consumption increasing only for poultry meat. This would reflect the prospect that in the former CPEs the production and per caput consumption of livestock products may take a long time to recover to near pre-reform levels after the sharp initial declines and that the other developed countries have generally high levels of per caput consumption.

4.18 With the continued growth of the livestock sector in the developing countries, their use of cereals as feed will continue to grow fast; it may more than double by the year 2010 to some 340 million tonnes, about 23 percent of their total use. This increasing proportion of total cereals supplies used to feed animals in the developing countries may be cause for concern given the persistence of undernutrition. This concern would be well founded if the use of cereals for feed diverted supplies that would be otherwise available for use by the poor as direct food. This could happen, but only in situations where the additional demand for feed would raise prices rather than supplies (whether from domestic production or imports) and price the poor out of the market. There are reasons to believe that this is the exception rather than the rule.

Roots, tubers, plantains: continuing importance in the total food supplies of countries in the humid tropics

4.19 Roots, tubers and plantains account for some 40 percent of total food supplies (in terms of Calories) for about one-half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, where overall food supplies are at very low levels. Other countries in both Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean also depend significantly on these staples. Production could be increased, and this will be done, to meet future needs. However, the past trends have been for per caput consumption to decline, at least as far as it can be ascertained from the imprecise statistics for this sector. The decline has reflected essentially a trend towards urbanization, where the high perishability and labour-intensive nature of preparation for consumption make these products less-preferred foods. With increasing urbanization, it can be expected that there will be further, although modest, declines in average per caput consumption. But dependence of these countries on these products for their total food supplies will continue to be high. The trend towards decline in per caput consumption may be attenuated if imported cereals become scarcer, which may well be the case if policy reforms in the developed countries raise prices and reduce supplies for concessionary sales and food aid. Likewise, further research into converting starchy roots into less-perishable and more-convenient food products for the urban population could contribute to the attenuation of these trends.

The oil crops sector of the developing countries: continued rapid growth in prospect

4.20 In the last 20 years, the oil crops sector of the developing countries has grown quickly and undergone radical structural change. The oil-palm in East Asia and soybean in South America have exhibited spectacular growth. The shares of these products and regions in total oil crop production have increased rapidly and those of the other oil crops (coconuts, groundnuts, cottonseed, sesame) of the developing countries and the other regions have declined accordingly.

4.21 The production growth of this sector will continue to be above-average compared with the rest of agriculture. Structural change will also continue, but at a much slower pace than in the past. The expansion of the oil-palm sector will continue to be the most rapid, increasing its share to perhaps 38 percent, up from 32 percent at present and only 16 percent 20 years ago. Soybean production in South America will also continue to grow rapidly, but nothing like the twelvefold increase of the last 20 years, when growth had started from a very low base. The continuation of fairly high growth rates in the oil crops sector reflects the rapid increase in the developing countries' consumption of both vegetable oils for food and oilseed proteins in support of their rapidly growing livestock sectors. They would also increase further their exports of oils and to a lesser extent those of oil-meals to the rest of the world.

Slower growth in the other main agricultural exports of the developing countries

4.22 There are well-known reasons why the generally unfavourable trends in the net exports of the major export commodities of the developing countries to the rest of the world may continue. For sugar, the reason is mostly the probable continuation of support and protection policies, market access restrictions and subsidized exports of major developed countries. Then, the former CPEs are likely to be much smaller net importers in the future. Therefore, net exports to the developed countries will, in all likelihood, continue to fall. This trend may be attenuated if further trade liberalization efforts lead to a more liberal trading environment. At the same time, the developing exporting countries will probably continue to expand exports as there are growing markets in the net importing developing countries, which increased their net imports nearly fourfold in the last 20 years.

4.23 Unlike sugar and some other major export commodities, coffee and cocoa are produced only in the developing countries and consumed mostly in the Western developed countries, where per caput consumption levels are already generally high. Therefore, efforts by developing countries to increase supplies in competition with each other translate into small increases in the volume of exports and large declines in prices. For the longer term, there is scope for the situation to improve given the low consumption levels prevailing in the former CPEs and the developing countries themselves. But little of this scope may materialize in the form of increased consumption and imports in the next 20 years. Therefore, growth in net exports of about 25 percent, and somewhat higher in production, is a likely outcome. For tea, there are somewhat better prospects for production growth, although not for exports, because a good proportion of production is consumed in the developing countries themselves and per caput consumption will continue to increase. Finally, exports of bananas have better prospects than those of the tropical beverages since there is still scope for per caput consumption to increase in the developed countries.

4.24 In general, for the traditional commodities produced only or mainly in developing countries competing with each other and consumed mostly in developed countries with nearly saturated consumption levels, the prospects for export earnings will continue to be dominated by movements in prices rather than volumes. The very long-term remedy to declining prices may be found in the growth of consumption in still unsaturated markets (former CPEs and developing countries themselves) and ultimately in the general development of the producing countries. The latter factor is important because it will create alternative income-earning opportunities and put a floor to how low the returns to labour in these commodity sectors may fall before supply contracts and prices recover. At the same time, there is scope for increasing agricultural export earnings if advantage is taken of the growing opportunities for trade in non-traditional products, such as horticultural produce, cut flowers, etc.

4.25 Finally, the prospects for some agricultural raw materials traditionally exported from the developing countries offer limited scope for growth in net export earnings, although for different, and not always negative, reasons. Thus, net exports of tobacco to the developed countries may not grow at all because their consumption is on the decline while it is on a rapid growth path in the developing countries. For cotton, the developing countries have recently turned from being net exporters to become net importers and will further increase their net imports in the future. This is, on the whole, a positive development because it reflects their growing and increasingly export-oriented textile industries. These trends could become even more pronounced if restrictions on textile exports are made less stringent or abolished. Similar considerations apply to the hides and skins sector and the associated expansion of exports of leather goods. Finally, natural rubber exports to the developed countries are expected to continue to grow, but also here the developing countries will gradually increase their share in world consumption and may, by the year 2010, account for over 50 percent of the world total, compared with less than 25 percent 20 years ago. Much of the expansion in consumption will be in East Asia.

Nearly stagnant fish production from capture fisheries, but better prospects for aquaculture

4.26 As noted earlier, the stagnation of fish production from capture fisheries, which peaked in 1989, is not a temporary phenomenon, but may persist, so that global per caput production of fish from this source can be expected to decline. It is possible for the effect on the fish supplies for human consumption to be somewhat mitigated by the addition of part of the catch of small pelagic fish, which are used in the production of fish-meal. However, the greatest scope for averting the decline in per caput production of food fish is to be found in further development of aquaculture. Continuation of the annual increase of about 1 million tonnes of fish from this source would be sufficient to maintain world per caput supplies for food at present levels, provided capture fishery management practices are improved and expanded, permitting capture fisheries production to remain at present levels. However, given that demand for fish products is expected to grow more rapidly than the population, particularly in Southeast Asia, unchanged per caput fish supplies will not suffice to avoid an increase in the real price of fish.

The developing countries' likely turn from net agricultural exporters to net importers

4.27 The prospective developments presented above for the major commodity sectors indicate that the developing countries' net imports of the agricultural (crop and livestock) commodities for which they are, or may become, net importers will be growing faster than their net exports of their major export commodities. While the individual developing countries face widely differing prospects in terms of changes in their net agricultural trade balances, these trends in import and export volumes point firmly in the direction of the developing countries' combined agricultural trade account switching from surplus to deficit. The movement in this direction has been evident for some time in the historical period. The positive net balance of trade on the agricultural account shrank rapidly in the 1970s, when food imports from the developed countries exploded. Although the trend was somewhat reversed in the 1980s, the overall surplus was only US$5 billion in 1988-1990 compared with $17.5 billion in 1969-1971 (both at 1988-1990 prices).

Prospects for the major commodity sectors: significance for food security

4.28 The preceding summary presentation of the prospects for the major commodities indicates clearly that the multiple role of agriculture in contributing to enhanced food security (by increasing food supplies, incomes and export earnings) will be conditioned by very diverse factors. These range from the more direct impacts of local production of cereals and of policies affecting their production and trade on a world scale, to the role of urbanization as a factor in the consumption of starchy foods (roots, tubers, plantains), to the world market prospects for the major food and non-food exportables of those countries with a high dependence on them.


5. Prospects to 2010: agricultural resources and yields in developing countries

Agricultural land and irrigation

The overall situation

5.1 Land currently used in crop production in the developing countries (excluding China) amounts to some 760 million ha, of which 120 million ha are irrigated, including 36 million ha of arid and hyperarid land made productive through irrigation. These 760 million ha represent only 30 percent of the total land of varying qualities with rain-fed crop production potential, which is estimated to be 2. 57 billion ha, including the 36 million ha of irrigated hyperarid land (Table 6). The remaining 1.8 billion ha would therefore seem to provide significant scope for further expansion of agriculture. However, this impression is severely redimensioned if a number of constraints are taken into account, such as:

About 92 percent of the 1.8 billion ha of land with rain-fed crop production potential but not yet so used is in sub-Saharan Africa (44 percent) and Latin America and the Caribbean (48 percent). At the other extreme, there is little land for agricultural expansion in South Asia and the Near East and North Africa.

Over two-thirds of the 1.8 billion ha of land not in crop production is concentrated in a small number of countries, e.g. 27 percent is in Brazil, 9 percent in Zaire and another 36 percent in 13 other countries (Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Central African Republic, Colombia, Indonesia, Mexico, Mozambique, Peru, the Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, Venezuela and Zambia).

A good part of this land "reserve" is under forest (at least 45 percent, but probably much more) or in protected areas, and therefore it should not be considered as a reserve readily available for agricultural expansion. Forests play a fundamentally important role in conserving the resource base, i.e. in terms of soil and water conservation and by providing a habitat for plant and animal diversity. Production of timber, wood and non-wood products provides income and jobs thereby increasing the possibility of local communities to obtain or purchase food and other basic necessities.

A significant part (72 percent, see Table 7) of the agricultural land of the two regions (sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean) that share 92 percent of the total reserve suffers from soil and terrain constraints. This is a much higher percentage than encountered in the other regions. Overall, some 50 percent of the 1.8 billion ha of land reserve is classified in the categories "humid" or "marginally suitable for crop production" (see below). Only 28 percent of land in use at present falls into these two categories.

Finally, human settlements and infrastructure occupy some of the land with agricultural potential, roughly estimated at about 3 percent. This proportion is expected to increase in the future, perhaps to 4 percent by 2010.

Table 6

Table 7

5.2 It is against this background that the prospects of more land coming into crop production use in the next 20 years must be examined. A process of expansion on to new land has characterized the evolution of agriculture in the past, and there is no reason to think that it will not occur in the future in the countries in which a combination of potential and need so dictate. The fact that there is little scope for agricultural land expansion in many countries should not lead to the conclusion that this applies to the developing countries as a whole. In what follows, an attempt is made to project how much new land may be brought under crop production by the year 2010. Potential and need are the main factors that will determine the rate of expansion. The first step is to estimate the potential. This was done using FAO's georeferenced agro-ecological zones (AEZ) database. The results are shown in Table 6. These data give an idea as to how much of the total land can be classified as "suitable", "very suitable" and irrigated, or "high potential", land.

Future expansion of land in crop production, rain-fed and irrigated

5.3 Land under crop production in the developing countries, excluding China,7 may expand from the 760 million ha in 1988-1990 to reach 850 million ha in 2010, an increase of 90 million ha or about 5 percent of the 1.8 billion ha land balance (Table 6). The bulk of the increase would be in sub-Saharan Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean. The rest of the increase would be mainly in East Asia, and very little of it would be in South Asia and the Near East and North Africa (Table 8). The following observations may be made:

Although the arable land may expand by 90 million ha, the harvested area could increase by 124 million ha because of a rise in cropping intensities (Table 8). The trend for the cropping intensities to increase and for fallow periods to become shorter is a well-established phenomenon (although there are no systematic comprehensive historical data on this variable) accompanying the process of agricultural intensification and reflecting, among other things, increases in population densities and the rising share of irrigation in total land use.

Irrigated land in the developing countries may expand by 23 million ha, or by 19 percent in net terms (Tables 6 and 8), assuming that losses of existing irrigated land (because of, for example, water shortages or degradation caused by salinization) will be compensated for by rehabilitation or substitution of new areas for the lost ones. It has not been possible to project the rate of irrigated land losses. The few existing historical data on such losses are too uncertain and anecdotal and do not provide a reliable basis for drawing inferences about the future. If it is assumed that 2.5 percent of existing irrigation must be rehabilitated or substituted by new irrigation each year (that is, if the average life span of irrigation schemes was 40 years), then the total irrigation investment activity over the period of the study in the developing countries (excluding China) must encompass some 85 million ha, of which over 70 percent would be used for rehabilitation or substitution and the balance for net expansion.

The projections of irrigation reflect a composite of information on existing irrigation expansion plans in the different countries, the potential for expansion and the need to increase crop production. The projections include some expansion in informal (community-managed) irrigation, which is important in sub-Saharan Africa. Cropping intensities on irrigated land are expected to continue to grow, particularly in the land-scarce regions. This would result in the harvested irrigated area increasing by 45 million ha, compared with the 23 million ha projected for the arable (physical) area in irrigation. The projected increase in arable irrigated land is well below that of the preceding 20 years, when it was 40 million ha (Table 8). It is even lower when considered in relative terms, with the projected growth rate being 0.8 percent per annum compared with 2.2 percent in the 1970s and 1.9 percent in the 1980s. The projected slow-down reflects the increasing scarcity of water resources, the rising costs of irrigation investment and, for the developing countries, the projected lower rate of agricultural production growth. Physical potential for faster expansion of irrigation exists in several countries and could be exploited if the socio-economic conditions so dictated (see WFS companion paper 7, Food production: the critical role of water).

Table 8

Land-yield combinations for major crops

5.4 The aggregate crop production in the developing countries as a whole (excluding China) is projected to grow at 2.4 percent a year, down from the annual growth rate of 2.9 percent evident between 1970 and 1990. The reasons why future growth may be lower than in the past were explained in the preceding section. The overall combinations of harvested area expansion and yield increases underlying the projections for major crops are shown in Table 9.

5.5 The data and projections in Tables 8 and 9 are useful for forming an overall idea of the extent to which production projections depend on the further expansion of land and irrigation, their more intensive use (increasing cropping intensities) and the continuation of yield growth. In particular, they shed some light on the question of whether or not the future will be like the past, although the historical data do not always provide a sufficient basis for making this comparison. It must be emphasized that these land and yield projections are definitely not extrapolations of the historical trends. The reader is invited to contemplate what the projections would have been if this study had just extrapolated the explosive area growth rates of the historical period for soybean and sugar cane in a major country like Brazil, which were 10.8 percent per year and 7.4 percent per year, respectively, in the period from 1970 to 1990.

5.6 Three overall conclusions can be made. First, for the major crops (such as cereals and soybean), the growth rates of average yields can be expected to be much below those of the last 20 years, e.g. 1.6 percent per annum for wheat compared with 2.8 percent per annum in the past and 1.5 percent per annum for rice compared with 2.3 percent per annum formerly (Table 9). Second, harvested area expansion will continue to play a significant role in total crop production growth, although, like in the past, it will be much less significant than that of yield increases. At the same time, increases in the cropping intensities of mainly the irrigated areas will play a predominant role in the land-scarce regions (South Asia, the Near East and North Africa). And, third, as noted in the preceding section, the expansion of irrigated land will probably proceed at a much slower pace than in the past.

Table 9

Land-yield combinations in the cereals sector

5.7 The growth in production of wheat and rice is expected to slow down considerably over the projection period as compared with growth in the last two decades. Coarse grains should maintain their past annual growth in the future, reflecting in part the strong growth of demand for cereals used for feed. By far the greater part (82 percent) of the production of wheat in the developing countries (excluding China) is located in South Asia and the Near East and North Africa. Rice production is concentrated in South and East Asia (89 percent) and barley is produced mainly in the Near East and North African Region. These are land-scarce regions with higher-than-average dependence on irrigation. Both necessity and potential dictate that much of the production increases of these three cereals will come from higher yields. Maize and sorghum are produced mainly in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, while millet production is evenly distributed between sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. By and large, the predominance of the two land-abundant regions with rain-fed agriculture in the production of coarse grains (except barley) indicates that area expansion will play a comparatively larger role in the growth of coarse grains production than in that of wheat and rice production.

5.8 The data and projections in Table 9 demonstrate this prospect. For example, a 2.0 percent annual increase in rice production may be achieved by a 0.5 percent annual increase in harvested rice area (and much less in arable area under rice). At the other extreme, a 2.5 percent annual growth rate in sorghum production will be based on the harvested sorghum area growing at 1.4 percent per annum. The fact that the production of these coarse grains is overwhelmingly rain-fed with, for millet and sorghum, a high proportion being in the two semi-arid land classes, explains why growth of yields may be expected to make a less-important contribution to production growth than for wheat and rice. The overall picture of possible area-yield combinations by agro-ecological land class underlying the production projections of cereals is shown in Table 10.

Considerations relating to the potential for yield growth

5.9 Given the high dependence of production increases on the growth of yields, the question is often raised as to whether or not, in the post-green revolution period, there is much scope left for further increases in yields. Particularly of interest is the extent to which yield increases may depend on the research system's generation of new varieties (e.g. those that would make possible quantum jumps in yields), or of varieties contributing to slower (evolutionary) growth of yields, for the periodic replacement of existing ones subject to the erosion of their yield potential. This is a central issue concerning research requirements and priorities to sustain the growth of production.

5.10 The agro-ecological characteristics used to classify agricultural land into categories in this study provide some useful background for addressing this issue. How useful they are depends on whether or not the resulting land classes may be considered to be representative of homogeneous physical production environments and their potential for yield growth. This is clearly not the case. For example, irrigated land in the Punjab in India is not necessarily the same as that found in Mexico, and so on for the other land classes.

5.11 These limitations of the agro-ecological classifications notwithstanding, their use in the analysis of this study, in association with the distinction of individual cereals rather than cereals or coarse grains as a group, is a useful step towards enlightening the debate on the extent to which future yield growth depends on new research breakthroughs. It certainly provides a sounder basis for judging this issue than the mere comparison of intercountry differentials in average yields, let alone differentials among large country groups, e.g. between average yields of the developed and the developing countries.

5.12 In examining the scope for production growth in the future through further increases in yields, the dominant factor is the realization that the scope for raising yield ceilings by quantum jumps through the introduction of new varieties is more limited now than it was in the past. Therefore, much of the growth in average yields must come less from raising yields of the countries with the highest yields today and more from raising those of the countries, particularly the large ones, at the middle and lower ranges of the yield distribution. This is why the yield projections imply a narrowing of the intercountry yield differences for each land class. The relevant data and projections by land class are shown in Table 11.

Table 10

Table 11

5.13 Does this pattern conform to the historical experience? It is not possible to investigate this issue for individual land classes because there are no relevant historical data. Such data exist only for average yields (over all land classes) in each country. They show that the gap between the countries with the highest yields and those with the lowest yields (simple averages of the top and bottom deciles of the countries ranked by yield level) had widened between 1969-1971 and 1988-1990 (Table 11). This occurred mainly as a result of a process whereby the yields of the countries in the top decile in 1969-1971 rose by more than those of the countries in the bottom decile. The projections for average yields (over all land classes) imply that the future may be unlike the past and that the yield gap may become narrower because the scope of yield growth in the top decile countries of 1988-1990 is more limited than it was 20 years ago.

5.14 This pattern is illustrated in Table 12 with data of individual countries for wheat and rice. For wheat, the countries in the top decile of the distribution in 1988-1990 had yields that were nearly twice as high as the countries in the top decile of 1969-1971. In contrast, there was much less yield growth in the countries in the bottom decile. These developments were even more pronounced for rice.

Table 12

5.15 The dependence of the future growth of aggregate production of the developing countries on the narrowing of the intercountry yield gap (as measured here, the difference in the simple average of yields between the top and bottom deciles of countries) should not, however, be exaggerated. This is because the countries at the two ends of the distribution (top and bottom deciles) account for a relatively small part of the total production of the crop examined. This is true even when, as has been done for Tables 11 and 12, countries with less than 50 000 ha under the crop (and for Table 10 also under the given land class) are excluded from the analysis. In practice, the realism, or otherwise, of the projections of total production of the developing countries depends crucially on that for yield growth in the countries that account for the bulk of the area under each crop.

5.16 For this purpose, Table 12 also shows the relevant historical data and projections of the 10 percent of countries with the largest areas (top decile of countries ranked by area under the crop). It is seen that: these countries have yields that are less than 50 percent of those in the countries with the highest yields; for wheat, their (simple) average yield is projected to grow by 43 percent, which is below the 62 percent increase of the 20 preceding years; for rice, the corresponding percentages are 47 percent and 50 percent; and, even with such increases, these countries, whose performance carries a large weight in the total, would still have in 2010 (simple) average yields about 50 percent of those projected for the countries in the top decile. Thus, although the gap may narrow, particularly for rice, it would be the result of the more limited scope for yield growth in the countries in the top decile, and not because the large countries with middle yields are projected to have higher growth than in the past.

5.17 The preceding rather lengthy discussion was considered necessary in order to provide the reader with sufficient material to consider the issue of the potential for further growth in yields to underpin the growth of production. This issue is discussed further in the full study, but no attempt is made to translate these projected yields into concrete proposals for agricultural research (magnitude, modalities, priorities). No doubt, further growth in yields, even at the more modest rates projected for the future compared with the past, will not come about unless the research effort continues unabated. It is just that the effects of research on production growth may manifest themselves in different ways: greater impact through the results of evolutionary, adaptive and maintenance research and less through achievement of quantum jumps in yield ceilings.


6. Issues of agricultural resources, environment and sustainability

General considerations

6.1 Concern with the state of the environment and the dwindling quantity (per caput) of land and water resources as well as their degradation requires that the conclusions of the paper be amplified to address questions such as the following: to what extent may the resource and environmental constraints impinge on the prospects for increasing food supplies and assuring access to food for all, the very essence of food security? And can such progress be achieved while ensuring that the gains made and the potential for further gains are maintained for future generations, the very essence of sustainability? This concluding section endeavours to put the overall issue in perspective.

6.2 The paper highlighted a number of interdependent factors as being instrumental in increasing per caput food supplies: poverty-reducing economic growth; the multiple role of agricultural growth in the majority of the developing countries (increasing food supplies and providing employment and income-earning opportunities for the poor, both directly and indirectly, via the growth linkages of agriculture); enhanced capacity to import food; and public policy. It follows, therefore, that as important as the agricultural resource constraints are in conditioning the prospects for food production and generation of incomes in agriculture, they are but one of the factors that affect the prospects of eliminating undernutrition. Other environmental factors (e.g. the capacity of the ecosystem to absorb the impact of increased use of energy) can condition the process of economic growth, poverty reduction and, ultimately, the prospects for eliminating undernutrition. In the end, the issue becomes one of sustainable paths to economic development and poverty elimination and not only one of increasing food production in sustainable ways. However, as noted, in the low-income countries with a high dependence on agriculture, it is the potential for exploiting sustainably their agricultural resources that will predominate for some time, until the process of development reduces this dependence.

Land and water resources in the quest for sustainable responses to the food problem

6.3 Reference is made to Table 6, which shows for the developing countries (excluding China) the data on land of varying qualities with potential to grow crops under rain-fed conditions and alternative levels of technology. The stark contrast between regions was noted earlier. Differences among countries become more sharply evident when expressed in terms of population densities, and even more so in terms of hectare per person in the population economically active in agriculture. This latter variable is the key to understanding the forces that may shape the future in terms of the population-resources balance. This balance has two main dimensions: how much more food must be produced, which is directly linked to the growth of total population and the per caput consumption of food, and how many people are, or will be, making a living from the exploitation of agricultural resources. The relevant variable here is the size of the population economically active in agriculture.

6.4 The continuous decline of agricultural resources per caput following population growth is one of the major reasons why concern is expressed about the population-food supply balance. The other reason has to do with the deterioration of the quality and production potential of the resources. The data discussed above may be used to shed some light on the nature and significance of the decline in the resources/person ratio (hereafter referred to as the land/person ratio). The values of this latter ratio in the different developing countries span a very wide range, from very low to very high. For example, at the very low end of the scale are countries such as Egypt, Mauritius and Rwanda, with ratios of land in use of under 0.1 ha per person in the total population and virtually zero reserves for further expansion. At the other extreme, countries such as Argentina and the Central African Republic have land-in-use ratios of close to 1 ha per person and considerable reserves.

6.5 With population growth, more and more countries will be shifting closer to values of the land/person ratios typical of those encountered currently in the land-scarce countries. Does this matter for their food and nutrition? An approach to obtaining a first partial answer is to examine if the currently land-scarce countries are worse off nutritionally (in terms of per caput food availabilities) than the more land-abundant countries. The picture emerging from this examination only confirms what is known, i.e. there is no apparent close relationship between the land/person ratios and per caput food supplies, even after controlling for differences in the quality of land. If anything, many land-abundant countries have low per caput food supplies, while most of the nutritionally better-off countries seem to be precisely those with the highest land scarcities. At the same time, most of these latter countries have considerable cereal imports.

6.6 Should this evidence be interpreted to mean that the perceived threat of ever-declining land/person ratios is misplaced? Not necessarily. In the first place, the national land/person ratio, even if adjusted for land-quality differentials, is just one of the many factors that determine per caput food supplies. Its importance cannot be evidenced without an analysis accounting for the role of these other factors (essentially respecting the clause "other things being equal"). Second, the land-scarce, nutritionally sound countries generally have a high dependence on imported cereals. This means that, for them, the perceived threat of the declining land/person ratios must be understood in a global context. That is, a decline in an individual country's land/person ratio may not threaten its own food welfare provided there is enough land elsewhere (in the actual or potential exporting countries) to keep the global land/person ratio from falling below (unknown) critical minimum values and, of course, provided that the people in the land-scarce country do not depend in a major way on the local land and water resources for a living. Countries such as Mauritius and the Republic of Korea are in this class.

6.7 It follows from the above that declining land/person ratios can threaten the food welfare of those land-scarce countries that greatly depend on agriculture for a living. And this is irrespective of the fact that their own population growth may not have a significant impact on the global land/person ratios. Only a combination of much more productive agriculture (in practice, the adoption of land-augmenting technologies that would halt or reverse the declines) and vigorous non-agricultural growth will free them from the bonds of ever-declining land/person ratios.

6.8 In conclusion, the declining land/person ratios do matter for per caput food supplies in two respects. In the global context, and for countries with high actual or potential dependence on food imports, they matter mainly if the declines threaten to push the global ratio below (unknown) critical values, even after allowing for the reprieve resulting from the use of land-augmenting technologies. Should this happen, the effects would be manifested in terms of rising food prices, which would mostly affect the poor. It has not happened so far, despite continuous declines in the global land/person ratios. How close the world is to eventual critical values and whether such values are likely to be reached before the world achieves stationary population and acceptable per caput food supplies for all is a matter of conjecture.

6.9 In the local context, declines in the land/person ratios do matter for food supplies, nutrition and incomes, mainly for the countries with limited access to imported food and with high dependence on agriculture for the maintenance and improvement of living standards and, consequently, of food welfare. If and when such dependence is reduced, the pressures on the global land/person ratios will assume increasing importance also for them.

6.10 The possible role of land-augmenting (in practice, yield-increasing) technologies was referred to above for the reprieve such technologies can afford in relation to the consequences of the inexorable declines of the land/person ratios. However, some of the perceived threats to progress towards solving the food problem have precisely to do with the risks to the productive potential of the agricultural resources stemming from the application of these very technologies, e.g. loss of rain-fed land to soil erosion and of irrigated land to salinization and waterlogging, loss of yield potential and increased risk of crop failures because of pest resistance, etc. In addition, efforts to bring new land under cultivation or to use existing agricultural land more intensively can often be associated with degradation (e.g. as a result of reduced fallows or from exposure of fragile soils to erosion following deforestation) and may not add permanently to total productive potential.  An attempt is made below to address what are considered to be the more fundamental processes driving human activity towards degradation of the productive potential of agricultural resources.

Agricultural activity and the degradation of agricultural resources

6.11 As noted, there is sufficient (although not comprehensive nor detailed) evidence establishing the fact that the productive potential of at least part of the world's land and water resources is being degraded by agricultural activity (e.g. soil erosion, waterlogging and salinization of irrigated lands). In addition, agricultural activity generates other adverse environmental impacts (e.g. the threat to biological diversity and the pollution of surface and groundwater sources). While recognizing that agricultural activity often contributes to maintaining or restoring the productive capacity of land and water resources, responding to the problem of resource degradation requires a framework of reflection on why human activity may end up destroying rather than preserving or enhancing this capacity. This is attempted below.

6.12 The most commonly held view is that these processes are somehow related to continuing demographic growth in two ways. First, more food must be produced, and this tends to draw into agricultural use land and water resources not previously so used and/or causes such resources to be used more intensively. Both possibilities may generate adverse impacts on the quality of the resources themselves as well as on the broader environment. Second, in many developing countries, population growth is accompanied by increases in the number of poor persons living off the exploitation of agricultural resources with the consequence that the amount of resources per person declines.

6.13 In the normal course of events, the decline in per caput resources would tend to increase their value to the persons concerned (often being their main or only income-earning asset) and would lead to their more efficient use, including maintenance and improvement of their productive potential. The fact that much of the agricultural resource base has been improved for agricultural use by human activity in the historical period is testimony to this process. Yet it is often observed that under certain conditions this caring relationship tends to break down, with the result that people destroy rather than conserve and improve the productive potential of the resources.

6.14 Understanding why this happens is the most important insight needed for policy responses to promote sustainable development. When this destructive relationship is observed in conditions of poverty, it is commonly taken for granted that poverty explains the behaviour of people vis-à-vis the resources. The hypothesized mechanism works (in economic parlance) in view of the shortening of the time horizon of the poor. In plain language, this means that, in conditions of abject poverty, the need for survival today takes high precedence over considerations of survival for tomorrow. The poor simply do not have sufficient means to provide for today and also invest in resource conservation and improvement to provide for tomorrow.

6.15 However, this proposition is far from being a sufficiently complete explanation of processes at work useful for formulating policy responses. For one thing, there is plenty of empirical evidence to show that this process is not at work in many situations of poverty. The Machakos district of Kenya provides an example of change towards more sustainable exploitation of poor agricultural resources under conditions of poverty and growing demographic pressure. For another, it is often observed that agricultural resource degradation occurs also when such resources are exploited by the non-poor (a matter discussed below). It also occurs, and often more so, in conditions where poverty is declining rather than increasing, for example, when the opening up of income-earning opportunities outside agriculture leads to the abandonment (because they are no longer worth it) of elaborate resource conservation practices, such as the maintenance of terraces to conserve small, poor-quality land patches on hillsides, etc.

6.16 It follows from the above that more complex processes are at work and that the simple correlation between poverty and environmental degradation can be an oversimplification. This is well recognized, and research work on understanding the role of other variables that influence the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation can provide valuable insights. Such work emphasizes, for example: the vital importance of institutions governing access to resources (e.g. to common property or open-access resources) and how such institutions come under pressure when population density increases; inequality of access to land and landlessness; policies that distort incentives to use technology that would contribute to resource conservation, e.g. by depressing the output/fertilizer price ratio and making fertilizer use uneconomic where increased use is vital for the prevention of soil mining; and the knock-on effects of policies that facilitate interactions between the non-poor and the poor in ways that lead to degradation, such as when deforestation and expansion of agriculture are facilitated by incentives to logging operations that open access roads into, and make possible agricultural settlement of, previously inaccessible forest areas that may have soils that cannot easily sustain crop production.

6.17 Understanding the role of these and other mediating variables and getting away from the simple notion that degradation can be explained by poverty alone is important for formulating and implementing policies for sustainable agriculture and resource conservation. It is important because the policy environment in the future will continue to be characterized by pressures on agricultural resources related, in one way or another, to rural poverty. Indeed, the numbers of rural poor depending on the exploitation of agricultural resources will probably increase further in some countries, although they may decline in others. It was noted earlier that both processes can be associated with resource degradation. Therefore, the key policy problem is how to minimize the adverse environmental impacts of both processes.

6.18 Poverty-related degradation of agricultural resources is only part of the story. It is well known that part of the degradation process is related to the actions of people who are not in the poor category. This issue has two aspects. The first aspect has to do with consumption levels and patterns of the non-poor, in both the developed and the developing countries. For example, some 30 percent of world cereals output is used as animal feed and a good part of the production of soybean and other oilseeds is also related to livestock production. Most of the livestock output produced in concentrate-feeding systems is consumed by the medium- and high-income sectors of society. To the extent that the production of cereals and oilseeds causes degradation (as indeed it does in some places, although not in others), it can be said that part of the degradation is caused by actions of the rich, not the poor. It would perhaps be more correct to say that it is caused by interactions between the rich and poor.

6.19 The second aspect has to do with the fact that resource degradation is also associated with agricultural practices of farmers who are not poor. Soil erosion believed to be associated with some of the grain production in North America is a case in point; excessive fertilizer and other agrochemical use in Europe is another; and effluents from intensive livestock operations are in the same category. These are all examples of actions by the non-poor with adverse environmental effects. It all goes to show that associating resource degradation with poverty addresses only part of the issue.

6.20 In the end, the focus of policy has to recognize that resource degradation has different consequences for different countries and population groups. For the poor countries, the consequences can be very serious because their welfare depends heavily on the productive potential of their agricultural resources. Therefore, from a purely developmental and conventional welfare standpoint, it is right that preoccupation with resource degradation problems focuses primarily on the developing countries. At the same time, it must be recognized that resource degradation not only in the developing countries but anywhere on the planet, particularly in the major food-exporting developed countries, can render more difficult the solution of the food security problems of the poor if it reduces the global food production potential. Therefore, controlling resource degradation in the rich countries assumes priority even in strategies focused primarily on the food security of the poor; and this is irrespective of the fact that the welfare of the rich countries, as conventionally measured by, for example, per caput incomes, may not be seriously threatened by moderate degradation of their own resources. There are, of course, other compelling reasons why the rich countries give high priority to controlling degradation of their own resources as an objective in its own right.

Future dimensions

6.21 The projections to 2010 of production, land use and yields presented in this paper indicate rather modest expansion of land in agricultural use and further intensification (double cropping, reduced fallows and higher yields). As noted, in the past these processes have often been associated with resource degradation and wider environmental problems. Therefore, to the question of whether or not agricultural development will be, or can be made, sustainable in the period up to 2010, the broad answer can only be that the forces, briefly surveyed in this section, that generated unsustainable outcomes in the past cannot be assumed to disappear overnight. It follows that, at least for some time, the world will have to accept trade-offs between more production and the provision of means of sustenance for the growing rural population on the one hand and the need to preserve the ecosystem and avoid resource degradation on the other. This notwithstanding, there is much that can be done to minimize such trade-offs and set the stage for putting agriculture on a more sustainable development path. Selected examples are given here:

The area under crop production can be increased by the projected 90 million ha while at the same time containing tropical deforestation, which in the 1980s amounted to 15 million ha per year. Policy, institutional and more general development failures in the past led to agricultural expansion having been associated with more deforestation than would have been the case otherwise. Correcting these failures, admittedly no small task, holds promise of containing further deforestation to the minimum necessary.

The adverse effects on the environment of the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides can be minimized if the process of intensification is carefully managed in the context of the potential offered by approaches such as Integrated Plant Nutrition Systems (IPNS) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). It is noted, however, that enhanced fertilizer use is a necessary ingredient in the move towards more sustainability in areas where too little fertilizer use is associated with nutrient mining and soil degradation. This is the case in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and the risk here is that the economic and policy environment may continue to be hostile to the adoption of practices to prevent soil nutrient mining.

In a similar vein, there is scope for the enhanced pressures on freshwater resources from agriculture as well as from industrial and urban uses to be accommodated, at least in part, by the more efficient use of the resource, which, in many cases, is dismally low. It remains to be seen if the policy, economic and institutional environment can adapt fast enough to relax the constraints resulting from the increased scarcity of freshwater supplies.

6.22 The preceding are just a few examples of aspects of the sustainability (or unsustainability) of agricultural development and the need and options for policy responses to minimize trade-offs that appear to be unavoidable for some time. More examples (e.g. desertification, soil erosion, etc.) are not discussed in the interests of keeping this paper brief. But some reference needs to be made to the mutual impacts of agriculture and aspects of the global environment:

Expansion and intensification of agriculture will contribute to intensified pressures on the global environment. In addition to adversely affecting the productive and protective functions of forests, deforestation will affect their role as habitats for biological diversity and as major carbon sinks. Biological diversity will also probably suffer from possible further draining of wetlands for conversion to agriculture, even though this conversion may affect only a minor proportion of total wetlands. Additionally, agriculture will continue to contribute to the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (biomass burning in the process of deforestation and methane emissions from rice cultivation and from ruminant livestock).

The eventual impacts of climate change on the physical parameters of agriculture (temperature, rainfall, variability, impact on yields) are still uncertain, but, based on present evidence, they may affect particularly adversely those regions already vulnerable to climate variation, notably sub-Saharan Africa. The effects of an eventual rise in the sea level would also be severe for some countries and a good part of their high-quality land resources would suffer. At present, increased carbon dioxide levels appear to have a positive effect on agriculture in general, and will continue to do so in the immediate future, because they contribute to higher yields through faster growth of plant biomass and better water utilization in many crops. However, the socio-economic and food security effects of these eventual changes will ultimately depend on the state of development the countries affected will have reached at that time. It is reasonable to predict that, if today's low-income countries in the latitudes that may be adversely affected by climate change were still low-income with widespread poverty and undernutrition and highly dependent on their agriculture in the longer-term future, the adverse effects on their food security would be severe. Obviously this need not be the case. If these countries had reached by then higher levels of development, they would be less dependent on agriculture and have enhanced resilience to withstand shocks. Thus, they would be in a position to better defend themselves in a world environment with increased trade, unless, of course, the effects of climate change on agriculture were to be catastrophic on a global scale. But this will probably not occur, as the productive potential of the northern latitudes may actually be enhanced by rising temperatures.

6.23 Finally, the concerns and the debate about the longer-term prospects should be informed by some fundamental facts: the growth rate of world population is on the decline (1.5 percent per annum from 1990 to 1995,expected to fall to 1.0 percent per annum from 2020 to 2025 and further to 0.5 percent per annum from 2045 to 2050); even the annual absolute increases in world population are about to peak at about 90 million in the next five years, after which they may start declining, but very slowly, to 80 million from 2020 to 2025 and down to 50 million from 2045 to 2050 (United Nations medium variant projection); and more and more countries will be achieving medium-high levels of per caput food consumption, beyond which the scope for further increases is diminished accordingly.

6.24 All these possible developments point to the need for agricultural production to grow at declining rates, and, therefore, the buildup of pressures from this origin on resources and the environment will become less intense. At the same time, if development takes hold in the low-income countries, environmental conservation will be edging higher in the priorities of people, while the means for investing in it will also be less scarce. It remains to be seen if the world can tread a sustainable path to this stage of easing of pressures of agricultural origin on resources and the environment. There is no assurance that this will be so if development failures continue to plague numerous countries as they do at present.


7. Conclusions

7.1 In conclusion, the longer-term food security future of humanity need not be bleak if action is taken now to: first, bring about the needed changes in the political, policy and institutional factors responsible for development failures and protracted mass poverty; second, invest in infrastructure and technology generation and diffusion to enhance the productive potential of agriculture in sustainable ways; and, third, address the population-development problem in accordance with the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.

7.2 Is this message, that humanity has the potential to take action to make progress towards resolving the world's food security problems, overly optimistic? It could be put in the negative: "... the long-term food security future of humanity will be bleak if action is not taken now ...". Whatever the formulation, this paper makes it clear that, in a business-as-usual scenario, severe food insecurity problems will persist for a long time. This is far from being an optimistic assessment, on the contrary; and the emphasis is on action to avert such an outcome. This is indeed what the World Food Summit is about.

7.3 As noted earlier, the world cereals markets have, over the last two years, been emanating signals (rising prices) that the world balance between supply and effective demand has been deteriorating. It is, therefore, a legitimate question to ask whether or not even the limited progress foreseen for up to 2010 under the business-as-usual scenario presented in this paper can be achieved. In other words, have the fundamentals changed significantly? Since this question is raised mostly in relation to the decline in the growth rate of world cereals production, any attempt at an answer must involve comparing and analysing recent developments in production with what was implied for the mid-1990s by the WAT2010 projections.

7.4 The broad conclusion made from the more precise discussion of this question in Box 2 is that, on balance, the recent production shortfalls and developments in the world markets provide no compelling reason for revising the cereals production levels projected for 2010 for the world and the major regions identified here. The principal factors responsible for the divergencies of actual outcomes from those implied by a smooth projection are reversible. But the risk of increased volatility can prove to be a more permanent structural change in the system, calling for appropriate policy responses.

7.5 The paramount food security problem in overall terms persists: the pace of improvement in raising the per caput food supplies (i.e. consumption) of the poor in the developing countries as a whole is too sluggish and the risk of outright stagnation or reversals in several of the most needy nations is a strong one.


Box 2

The cereals sector outlook to 2010 seen from mid-1996

Developments from 1990 to 1995

The cereals projections of the FAO study World agriculture: towards 2010 (WAT2010) are presented in Table 5. World production was projected to be 2 334 million tonnes in 2010 compared with 1 679 million tonnes in the three-year average 1988-1990, the base years of the study. If world production had evolved along a smooth expansion path (but this was not what the study said, on the contrary), it should have reached a level of 1 840 million tonnes in 1995. In the end, world production was only 1 713 million tonnes in 1995 (or, more appropriately, 1 772 million tonnes in the three-year average 1994, 1995 and forecast 1996). This significant shortfall raises the question as to whether or not the level projected for 2010 is still a realistic one.

To answer this question, the evolution of production must be observed at a more disaggregated level. This is done in the Figure on p. 47, which distinguishes three country groups, two of the groups of developed countries in Table 5 and one for the developing countries as a whole. It is clearly seen that the world shortfall is mostly attributable to developments in the Eastern Europe and former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) region and to a much lesser extent in the group "Other developed countries". The reasons for this shortfall and the implications for world market prices and stock levels were discussed earlier and are not repeated here.

It is also seen in the Figure that the actual production of the developing countries has been tracking very closely the projection trajectory; their net imports for the average of the latest two years (July/June 1994/95 and forecast 1995/96) are estimated to be 107 million tonnes, i.e. again close to what could be deduced from a smooth interpolation for 1995 along the net-imports trajectory of the study (from 90 million tonnes in 1988-1990 to 162 million tonnes in 2010). By implication, also their total cereals consumption (production plus net imports) has been evolving as indicated by the study.

Re-evaluating the world production outlook for 2010

The extent to which these recent developments will lead to any significant revisions of the above-indicated world cereals production projections for 2010 depends on whether any or all of the factors behind the production shortfalls in recent years (reforms in the former centrally planned economies, weather shocks, policy reforms in the major exporting countries leading to lower publicly held stocks) can be considered to be in the nature of a permanent structural change in the fundamentals of the world cereals economy, naturally beyond the changes already incorporated in the projections. Obviously, the production declines in the Eastern Europe and the former USSR region are not in that category. It can be fairly safely assumed that the eventual recovery will put the region on a trajectory that would lead its production to be near the just over 300 million tonnes projected for 2010 (Table 5). However, part of the declines in the region's apparent consumption (mostly in feed and waste) are likely to prove permanent and this would lead to the emergence of the region as a small net exporter, compared with its status as a large net importer in the pre-reform period, as foreseen by the study.

There is no hard evidence that weather-induced production shortfalls are likely to be more frequent in the future than in the past, nor that weather may affect the foreseen trend in production per se. Therefore, there is no compelling reason to assume that the projected world production for 2010 (to be understood as an average of at least three years) needs to be revised for this reason alone.

Finally, whatever the pattern of weather fluctuations in the future, their importance for world markets must be examined in conjunction with the third above-mentioned factor, i.e. the policy reforms away from the production of surpluses and towards reduced publicly held stocks in major exporting countries. This is indeed a factor that may prove to be a permanent structural change in the fundamentals of the world cereals economy. There is at least a risk that for this reason the world cereals markets could become more volatile in the future, despite the stabilizing effect of an increasingly liberalized trading system. The magnitude of this risk is a moot point at the moment, but it is the subject, together with the required measures to safeguard world food security, of particular concern to FAO.



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Lewis, W.A. 1953. Report on industrialization and the Gold Coast. Government Printing Office, Accra,Ghana.

United Nations. 1974. Assessment of world food situation, present and future. World Food Conference Document E/CONF. 65/3. New York, NY, USA, United Nations.

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 1 Cereals production in the European Community-12 rose by 55 million tonnes between the five-year averages 1968-1972 and 1988-1992. In the same period, its net trade position changed from net imports of 21 million tonnes to net exports of 27 million tonnes, that is, 87 percent of the total increment in production was absorbed by changes in the net trade position. This change was less dramatic in practice than it appears at first glance because, at the same time, the region was importing increasing quantities of cereal substitutes for its domestic feed markets. In a certain sense, the European Community increased supplies of cereals to the rest of the world, partly in exchange for increased quantities of cereals substitutes, mainly cassava and oilseeds.

2 See, however, earlier discussion as well as the concluding section of the paper concerning the changing role of the main developed exporting countries following policy reforms.

3 While it is clear that conflict and political instability are important variables in explaining endemic failures in development and aggravation of food security problems, the more interesting aspect is the existence of causation in the opposite direction, i.e. from development failures to conflict and instability, resulting in the establishment of a vicious circle. If this were the case (as it may well be, though the relevant relationships are likely to be mediated by complex socio-political and institutional variables), policies to improve development prospects, which, in many countries, would mean policies to improve agricultural performance, would be an integral part of the package of measures to prevent emergence of conflict.

4 For 1994, see United Nations (1994).

5 The growth rate of world per caput consumption is not a very good indicator for judging what happens to food security problems. Even if this growth rate fell to zero or became negative, it could still be compatible with improvements in the per caput food supplies for the countries with low nutritional levels and high population growth rates without compensating declines in the countries with high nutrition (see relevant illustrations in the following section on cereals). It is, therefore, important to realize that the world can still make progress towards food security even with little growth in per caput world production.

6 See note to Table 3 for an explanation as to why this projected estimate is higher than that of the original study of 1993.

7 China is excluded because of the lack of relevant data, i.e. the crop production patterns and land with agricultural potential, both of which are required by agro-ecological zone for the analysis. In addition, there are indications that the existing data understate the land in agricultural use and overstate yields. If this is true, there is apparently more potential for further growth of agricultural production than is commonly thought. Until such uncertainties are resolved, no evaluation of the future prospects for land use and yields can be undertaken. Discussion of this issue in the context of the recent concerns about China's rising cereal imports can be found in Alexandratos (1996).