As we make our way into the future, researchers have begun to worry about whether or not the Earth will be able to sustain the number of people expected to be alive in the middle of this century.
Startling trends in demographic and economic growth of the entire world reveals that as soon as 2050, the Earth may not be able to produce the food needed to meet the demands of the world’s growing population. Ironically in some countries some people eat to much and suffer from obesity or Type-2 Diabetes, both curable diseases.
As economic growth stabilizes poorer but developing countries, the wealthier individuals will begin eating a wealthier diet, which requires more resources to yield the same amount of food. As we spiral almost uncontrollably into the future, massive changes to how the world produces its food will be needed to support the coming generations. Whether or not these changes are adhered to will determine whether or not the Earth’s future generations will flourish – or starve.
From the 19th to the 20th century, the population of the world has grown at a near exponential rate. In 1804, when Lewis and Clark embarked upon their exploratory journey of the United States, the world’s population had reached one billion people, it wasn’t until 1927 – over a century later – that the world’s population had added another billion, totaling 2 billion people.
From then, it only took 33 years before the world had added another billion. Today that figure has more than doubled, with over seven billion people currently alive in the world today. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach over 9 billion people.
In addition to the increase of population putting more pressure on the Earth for its food, the increasing economic well-being of developing countries has led to an increase of incomes across a large amount of people in the world. While economic trends are much harder to pinpoint than population numbers are, there is a general consensus that the world will become more financially stable in the long run, despite recent financial problems of developed parts of the world.
Historically, as incomes rise, so does demand for meats, sugar and dairy products – foods that cost more in terms of resources and time to produce. It takes multiple pounds of grain to form a pound of meat or dairy, and that does not include the extra costs associated with meat and dairy production.
The raising of livestock for meat and for by-products such as as milk and cheese requires extra crops and extra labor to raise and slaughter or harvest the milk from the animal, as well as the costs to distribute this food, most of which requires refrigeration of some kind.
Demand for less efficient food sources will rise in tandem with populations, increasing the pressure for food consumption. If these trends prove to be correct, food production will need to ramped up by 70% overall in order to meet its demand in the middle of the century.
For the most part, food production in the past has kept up with the needs of the world. The primary means of increasing crop yields has been in increasing the amount of acreage used to farm crops. From 1965 to 2011, the amount of acreage used for staple crops increased to nearly 500 million acres. Increasing the surface area of the world used for growing crops is a tried and true method for increasing the amount of food grown for the world.
Just as important to increasing crop yields as increasing acreage is, closing yield gaps is a viable means of upping the food production of the world. A yield gap is what happens when a harvest yields a less than optimal amount of crops. This happens when the full use of modern agricultural practices and technology is not fully utilized. For the most part, this happens in poorer, developing countries where perhaps the infrastructure cannot support such technologies.
However, as stated earlier, developing countries are becoming increasingly economically stable. With more money brings a more stable infrastructure, and thus the opportunity to employ better agricultural practices and to shrink the yield gap as the population continues to grow.
Finally, there are other, more minor, but still as important factors to consider. For one, it has been estimated that 30 percent of crop yields gets wasted due to improper storage, contamination, and consumption by pests – largely due to poor agricultural infrastructure. Decreasing the waste of food in this manner by 15% could mean that only a 45% increase in agricultural production would be needed by 2050.
Improving international trade would is also a proactive step that to take in this endeavor. The vast majority of high yield crop acreage lies in Europe, Oceania, and North America – precisely the parts of the world where population growth will be of least concern. Increasing international trade will not only help benefit developing words economically, but agriculturally as well. Food will be able to reach a greater number of people that needs the food.
The problems of the world’s future are not easy problems to fix. They are complex and by their very nature span the world with many moving parts. However, no matter how difficult the challenges we face, we must address them. Our continued existence on this Earth hinges on our ability to do so.