Between now and 2050 – less than 30 years – the world's population is likely to rise by 2.2 billion people. That, accompanied by rising global incomes, equates to a huge increase in the demand for food. To meet that need, agricultural production will need to rise by 60%.
Because we're already farming most of the suitable land, and because we cannot slash more forests for agriculture if we are at all serious about climate change, this growth must come from higher yields. New technologies look promising. From vertical farming and hydroponics to desert farming and the use of drones to 'smarten' farming, we are seeing advances in how food is produced - using fewer resources, taking advantage of environments previously not used for farming, and sometimes even reducing CO2 emissions.
Reducing Food Waste and Changing Diets
But increasing productivity isn't likely to be sufficient. We see today in some cases that crop yields and animal growth rates are falling. Perhaps, instead, the focus needs to be on our behaviours as consumers, on reducing food waste and changing diets.
Today, one-third of all food produced is not eaten. A lot of food is lost before it reaches our plates, but consumers too are responsible for enormous amounts of waste.
The meat and dairy-heavy diets of the developed world are contributing to our problems. Raising livestock is extremely resource-intensive and produces far fewer calories and nutrients per gram than plants. Beef production, for example, requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gasses per gram of edible protein than common plant proteins, such as beans and peas.
So, the question is, what will it take to feed the world in 2050? Will technology be the panacea we hope, or do we need behaviour change on a massive scale?