Food and population: FAO looks ahead

By 2030 the world's population is expected to top eight billion. Can the world produce enough food to meet global demands? The answer is yes, according to a new report from FAO's Global Perspective Studies Unit. The report, "Agriculture: Towards 2015/30", forecasts global trends in food, nutrition and agriculture over the next 30 years.

The report notes that remarkable progress has been made over the last three decades towards feeding the world. While global population increased by over 70 percent, per capita food consumption is almost 20 percent higher. In developing countries, despite a near doubling in population, the proportion of the population living in a chronic state of undernourishment was cut in half, falling to 18 percent in 1995/97. FAO anticipates that this progress will continue. However, the absolute number of hungry will remain stubbornly high. "In 2015 there could still be about 580 million people suffering from chronic undernourishment," says FAO.


Cereal imports in developing countries are projected to more than double by 2030. Each region will show significant growth, with the Near East and North Africa continuing to account for the bulk of imports (nearly 40 percent).


Food production keeps pace

Food production will continue to increase but its rate of increase is expected to fall, from 2.2 percent a year over the last three decades to 1.5 percent a year over the period to 2030. However, it will still exceed population growth.

Cereals will remain by far the most important food in terms of calories. World demand and production of cereals is projected to rise by nearly a billion tonnes - from the current 1.84 billion tonnes to 2.8 billion in 2030 - although the rate of increase will drop. The livestock feed sector is expected to account for 44 percent of the increase in demand and will be "the most dynamic element driving the world cereals sector," the report says.

Trade to expand

Developing countries will become increasingly dependent on imports of cereals. Their net cereal imports are expected to rise from 107 million tonnes in 1995/97 to 270 million in 2030. Traditional exporters such as North America, Western Europe and Australia would need to increase their net exports from 142 million tonnes in 1995/97 to 280 million tonnes by 2030 to fill the demand.

Increasing importance of livestock products

As urbanization develops and incomes grow, the world food economy is increasingly fueled by a demand for livestock products. The last 20 years have witnessed spectacular growth in meat demand in developing countries - expanding at an annual rate of 5.5 percent - although many countries with the greatest need for higher protein consumption did not participate in this process. The poultry sector has seen dramatic gains, with the share in meat output more than doubling to 28 percent over the last three decades. As the developing world's demand for meat begins to level off and with consumption slackening in industrial countries, FAO projects a slowdown in the growth of the world meat economy.

A look at these two 34-year periods shows that food production will continue to outstrip population growth. The growth rate of both agricultural production and population will decline overall. In particular, the growth of meat production in developing countries is forecast to slowdown after dramatic increases in the past.

Crop output on the rise

Both imports and crop production will increase in developing countries. According to the report, crop output is projected to be 70 percent higher in 2030 than it is now. Four-fifths of this growth will be achieved by intensifying production through higher yields, multiple cropping and shorter fallow periods. Arable land expansion - mostly in South America and sub-Saharan Africa - will account for the rest. Irrigation is expected to play a more important role in developing countries. Presently, irrigated production is estimated at 40 percent of total crop production but it could rise another seven percentage points by 2030.

Forestry and fisheries

Forest management goals will increasingly shift from wood production to safeguarding the environmental functions of forests, the report said. The role of industrial forest plantations to provide timber is expected to increase strongly, with its share reaching one-third of total supply by 2015. Use of fuel wood is expected to continue to grow over the next two decades before stabilizing or even declining marginally. More than 60 percent of the wood harvested globally in 1995 was used as fuel.

Average world consumption of fish per person could grow from 16 kg a year in 1997 to 19-20 kg by 2030, raising total food use of fish to 150-160 million tonnes. The yearly sustainable yield of marine capture fisheries is estimated at no more than 100 million tonnes. "The bulk of the increase in supply therefore will have to come from aquaculture," says the report.

Continuous pressures on the environment

As the rate of agricultural growth slows down, environmental pressures will grow but at lower pace than in the past. For example, the rate of deforestation is expected to diminish reflecting the slowdown in the expansion of arable land. The increase in the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural inputs will also slowdown. However, intensified livestock production could have increasing adverse environmental effects by augmenting land, water and air pollution.

A final report will be published by early 2002.

Full technical interim report

July 24, 2000

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