Feeding the 9 billion

 Guest author Willie Vogt, published Farm Futures story

Image 1: By Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP

Rising population challenges farmers to ‘step up,’ yet work may be harder than thought.

Any farmer who has attended a commodity group or farm group meeting in the past two or three years has heard the clarion call to feed the rising population.

The stats are stark. World population is going to increase to more than 9 billion by 2050, with the impact that global farmers will have to double food output. In fact, some statisticians figure that the amount of food to be produced in this short time period could actually equal what has been produced in the past 10,000 years.

The challenge ahead could be bigger. “I serve on the advisory committee for the Federal Reserve in Kansas City, and an economist there pointed out that the rise to 9 billion includes 2 billion more in the middle class,” says Bill Horan, Rockwell City, Iowa, and chairman of the Truth About Trade and Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The global population’s growing middle class is significant because historically, Horan points out, “The first thing they want is protein — and more and better protein.” Farmers will not be feeding that larger population just with more grain.

Will Sawyer, vice president of grains, oilseeds and animal protein at Rabobank, notes that this is a key concern as experts look at population rise. “It’s a question of whether the U.S. can satisfy growing food demand in the form of meat or grain,” he notes.

Either way, global food production must rise, and Sawyer notes that countries that have historically fought use of biotech crops will be forced to “step up” to a more Western system of food production. “Food systems will have to transition away from traditional backyard production.”

Image 2: By Tim Wimbourne, Reuters
Horan has a big worry about this challenge because he notes that he’s talked to a number of economists who question global agriculture’s ability to meet that middle-class need. The grain used for livestock production would outstrip capacity, according to Horan. “That makes the 2 billion rise in global population [beyond the 7 billion today] look completely different,” he notes.

He adds that seed companies pushing to double production are aiming in the right direction, but “it’s meat that’ll be the problem.” He warns that the global population could end up with some countries that can afford meat and some that can’t, which could be a moral dilemma ahead.

The other side of the coin is that global food producers are stepping up, and whether it’ll be enough will remain to be seen. But Rabobank’s Sawyer notes that he’s seeing evidence that Brazil is working out its logistics issues, which will lower its cost of production.

China is moving into Africa with major development projects to leverage agriculture production to meet growing demand for grain and protein as well.

Yet Sawyer sees that global development as good, even as the competitive position of the United States changes. “The U.S. will remain a significant player in the global market.”

Horan, long an advocate for using more technology in agriculture, says, “Maybe technology is the answer.” However, he notes that better trade agreements will matter, too. “We need to be aware of the problem, so we can develop a strategy, and then we need to develop a strategic vision of how to solve the problem,” he says. “We don’t have that much time. We could be stressing the system within the next 10 years.” Farm Futures

Note: It is also important to consider that the U.S. is a leading example of technology applied in agriculture to grow higher yielding crops on less land. And, it is this technology that may help satisfy the global population’s ever increasing food demands.

Photos obtained from:
Image 1: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-04/eastley-australia-food-bowl/4547422
Image 2: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2011-10-30/world-population-hits-seven-billion/51007670/1

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