In 2011, humanity welcomed its seven-billionth member. At the current birth rate, experts predict we will reach more than 9 billion by 2050. To feed everyone, we’ll need to double the amount of food we currently produce.
But the challenge of feeding everyone isn’t just an issue of volume. It’s also an issue of what type of food is needed, and where.
On our way to more than 9 billion
For most of human history, the earth’s population has increased at a slow, steady pace. However, in the past 120 years, the number of human beings who need to be fed by our planet has increased from 1.5 billion to 7 billion. There are many reasons for this. In part, it’s due to longer life expectancies made possible by advances in medical care. But another big reason is agriculture itself: considered on a global scale, food is generally easier to get and more nutritious than ever before.
As life expectancies and quality of life increase, birth rates tend to go down. But even allowing for a decrease in the current global birth rate, experts still project that our population will add more than 2 billion within the next 40 years.
From USDA Amber Waves:
With Adequate Productivity Growth, Global Agriculture Is Resilient to Future Population and Economic Growth
Rapid improvements in agricultural productivity in recent decades have freed resources such as land and labor for nonagricultural uses, dampened the environmental impact of farming, and made food more affordable to a growing world population. However, prospects for future growth in agricultural productivity are uncertain, particularly in light of climate change. If agricultural productivity growth slows in future years, how will global agricultural output, consumption, land use, and prices adjust? To address this question, ERS researchers recently used the agency’s global agricultural and energy economic model—the Future Agricultural Resources Model (FARM)—to simulate agricultural markets in 2050 under a range of different scenarios.
In trying to project future global agricultural production and resource use decisions given varying technological changes, we developed two scenarios: (1) a global agricultural economy with moderate population, income, and agricultural productivity growth over the next four decades and (2) a low-productivity scenario that reflects a less optimistic outlook for future agricultural productivity growth. By comparing these two scenarios, we can judge how farmers and consumers could be expected to react should future agricultural productivity growth slow for any reason.