Global Agriculture: Global population to reach 10bn in 2050, dramatic changes to food supply are needed

Global Agriculture: Global population to reach 10bn in 2050, dramatic changes to food supply are needed


Current estimates suggest that by 2050 the global population will reach 10bn. With so many mouths to feed, the task of producing more food with the limited resources that we have whilst simultaneously trying to reduce our carbon emissions to protect the environment and the crops we are trying to grow seems almost impossible. However, despite this uncertainty, there are some options and choices available to help deal with problem. These include reducing spoilage, protecting soil, increasing efficiency through technology, fairer distribution of resources, better education, protecting bio diversity and pollinators and bringing farming into unused spaces. But it will take a concerted effort from all of the major agriculture producers in order for it to be possible and without this we will certainly see ever more severe instances of drought, starvation and climate disasters as we move towards 2050.

Key Highlights

  • Even according to conservative estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, global agricultural production could easily feed a much higher human population. In theory, even if the world’s population strikes 10 billion, feeding everyone will present few difficulties. Yet even now the Food Aid Organization estimates 785 million people do not have sufficient access to food to lead an active life; 12.9% of people in developing countries are undernourished. Wasted food is therefore a very real problem. The ability of whole populations to feed themselves in a sustainable fashion is under pressure. Some solutions, such as big data analytics, are helping but major problems including consumer and business attitudes persist.
  • There have been major increases in food consumption across the world since the beginning of the 1960s. As the economic power of consumers rises with the years their demand rises as well, rendering the years to come crucial for the mankind. However, that is not only due to the economic power of the consumers but to the population as well which currently amounts for 7.7 billion. Researchers have predicted that until 2050 the human population will exceed 10 billion, making it nearly impossible to provide food for that amount of people. Now, the increase on the population, including the increase in demand for food, renders crucial the existence of alternative and more sustainable food productions, thus a more sustainable agriculture plan has to take place.
  • The initiatives of governments have never been more necessary to encourage the agricultural industry to operate in a more productive and sustainable manner, considering the expected enormous growth in the number of mouths to feed over the coming few decades. Government subsidy intervention is crucial in the agricultural industry to encourage producers of essential crops to increase and maintain production, particularly when prices are volatile and potential profits could be reduced. The intent has always been to stabilize markets, help low-income farmers, and aid rural development. However, this is not always the outcome and many subsidy programs have been criticized for heavily funding global agricultural conglomerates over smaller localized and sustainable businesses.
  • Examine some of the major issues effecting the agriculture industry
  • See how some of the industries processes will have to change
  • Learn where solutions might come from
  • Understand the potential opportunities that might arise from new technology
Reasons to buy
  • How large will the global population become over the next few decades?
  • What will this mean for climate change and the food supply?
  • Can this situation be meaningfully resolved?
  • What opportunities are there for companies to supply the solutions?

Executive Summary
Food Wastage: A serious threat to global agricultural sustainability
Climate Change: A major threat for agriculture, unless greenhouse emissions can be reduced
Soil Degradation: Problems require solutions to enable land to feed 10 billion
Agricultural Sustainability: Critical to maintaining the ecosystem balance
Agriculture Technology: Innovation takes bite out of global food gap
Government Intervention: New schemes needed to feed a hungry population
Food Wastage: A serious threat to global agricultural sustainability
Supply chain development will help to reduce wastage in transit
Technology is helping to track degradation of food in the supply chain
Consumer demands make feeding an expanding population far harder than it ought to be, but change is occurring
Badly implemented subsidies encourage wasted food production, but when done well help farmers produce more
African nations are developing subsidies to improve farming performances
Climate Change: A major threat for agriculture, unless greenhouse emissions can be reduced
Food production is contributing to climate change, which is simultaneously damaging agriculture
Insect pests are thriving under the rising temperatures, causing losses in crops and their nutritious value
Climate change has made extreme weather more sporadic, forcing crops dependent upon cyclical events to suffer
Soil erosion from extreme weather conditions reduces the fertility of soil, whilst compacting the ground to reduce the quality of water going into the crops
Rising sea-levels cause an increase in flooding, damaging crops with salt water contamination
Droughts are the biggest concern for agriculture by damaging plant life, facilitating insect pests and risking food spoilage during transport
Rising carbon dioxide levels is increasing plant growth, but at the consequence of reducing their nutritious value
Climate migrants are forced to leave their homes because of climate change, congesting areas which are needed to feed the growing population
Soil Degradation: Problems require solutions to enable land to feed 10 billion
Large areas of land have been poisoned, toughening the task of feeding a growing population
Threat of large-scale disease could deter consumers from buying Chinese grown foodstuffs
Desertification causing soil degradation in Africa is straining agricultural production
Farming in areas of deforestation is unsustainable on a long-term basis
Agricultural Sustainability: Critical to maintaining ecosystem balance
Biotechnology and genetically modified crops are a controversial topic
The consequences of genetically modified crops
The implementation of genetically modified crops has to be introduced with extreme caution in developed countries
Genetically modified crops can affect the environment
Efficient agricultural land use: land sparing vs land sharing
Land sparing could increase food production for future generations
Wildlife friendly farming could increase the chances of preserving the animal inhabitants, but it would reduce food production
Water efficiency will not only increase food production but it will decrease the amounts of clean water being used
Improvements in soil health and fertility are needed in order for farming lands to be a sustainable food source for the future
Minimal or zero-pesticide use can boost soil productivity in the long-run
Agriculture Technology: Innovation takes bite out of global food gap
Food Gap - Food production must increase by 2050
Historical agricultural crop yields reflect the potential and limitations of increasingly efficient crops
New technologies to increase food production
Digitization is enabling the quantification of farming
Agricultural Drones will make crop management and production more efficient and effective
Advanced analysis methods are turning agriculture into a precision industry
Advanced biological farming methods will achieve further yield increases for crops
Food loss must decrease by 2050
Digitization within emerging economies will reduce production loss
Blockchain technology has potential to ‘leapfrog’ existing track and trace infrastructure
Computational learning models will better manage supply chains in real-time, reducing loss
In the developing world, AI will drive improvements in the customer experience, reducing consumption loss
Genetic engineering will lead to heathier and longer-lasting food
Food will become personalized based on healthcare needs
Technology to address the land gap
Access to the digital world will strengthen ownership rights and legal certainty for subsistence farmers
Better techniques to analyze risk will incentivize lending, reduce poverty and shift production to large-scale commercialization
Microcredit as a mechanism for alleviating poverty
The only way is up for modern farming approaches
Lab-grown meat will be a mainstay in future diets
Government Intervention: New schemes needed to feed a hungry population
Agricultural subsidies are intended to increase production of vital crops
Effectiveness of agricultural subsidies has come under scrutiny
Regulate and dismantle multinational agribusiness corporations
Child limitation policies to combat food shortages
Taxes to discourage meat-rich diets
Greater commitment to research & development to improve yields
Promotion of private sector investment
Political mobilization to reduce the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition
Key Findings
Further reading
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List of Figures
Figure 1: Estimated population and food supply changes between 2019-2050
Figure 2: Tesco waste by category, 2017 to 2018
Figure 3: Spoiler Alert
Figure 4: Tesco consumer waste for vegetables and fruit, 2014
Figure 5: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Figure 6: African exports ($bn) of edible vegetables and certain roots and tubers 2009 to 2017
Figure 7: Average global temperatures 1860-2020
Figure 8: Map of China detailing soil contamination risk, 2017
Figure 9: Baby milk formula discarded in China in protest at contamination
Figure 10: Desertification in Annakila, Mali
Figure 11: Loess Plateau, China, before and after regenerative agriculture
Figure 12: Deforestation farming in Amazon rainforest, Brazil
Figure 13: Fate of deforested forest land in Indonesia, 2011
Figure 14: Agricultural sustainability model
Figure 15: Global Area of Biotech Crops, 1996 to 2016
Figure 16: Global Area of Biotech Crops in 2015 and 2016: by Country (million hectares)
Figure 17: Global Area of Biotech Crops in 2015 and 2016: by Country (million hectares)
Figure 18: Land sparing, density vs yield
Figure 19: Land sharing, density vs yield
Figure 20: Average fertilizer application rates for select countries 2002- 2014 measured in kilograms of nutrient per hectare of arable land
Figure 21: Fertilizer products cover nitrogenous, potash, and phosphate fertilizers (including ground rock phosphate). Animal and plant manures are not included.
Figure 22: Global nitrogenous fertilizer production, measured in tons of nitrogen produced per year 1961-2014
Figure 23: Long-term agricultural yields in the UK 1870-2014
Figure 24: Average corn yields in the USA, 1866-2014
Figure 25: In developing countries, 20% of food grown is lost during production and handling
Figure 26: In developed countries 14% of food produced is lost at the consumption stage
Figure 27: Development of CAP expenditure over the years as a share of the EU budget 1980-2017
Figure 28: China’s age group as a share of population 2000- 2020
Figure 29: Meat production has surged in the past 50 years
Figure 30: Beef/Mutton is the biggest strain on land
Figure 31: Yield of cereals and oilseed rape on agricultural holdings in the UK, in tonnes per hectre 2014-2018
Figure 32: Share of Central Government Expenditure on Agriculture (%) 2001-2017
Figure 33: Global number of individuals undernourished 2007-2017
Figure 34: Number of undernourished people since 2000

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