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Africa Sub-Sahara Asia Europe North America Oceania South America Africa

Figure 2.8 Trends in per-capita food production since 1961 for different regions of the world. Food production per capita was greater in 2005 relative to 1961 in every region of the world except Sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa Sub-Sahara Asia Europe North America Oceania South America Africa

Figure 2.8 Trends in per-capita food production since 1961 for different regions of the world. Food production per capita was greater in 2005 relative to 1961 in every region of the world except Sub-Saharan Africa.

countries decreased from 960 million people in 1970 to 820 million people in 2003, nearly 30% of the people in Sub-Saharan continue to have insufficient access to food (FAO 2006b). Asia, Oceania, and South America have seen continued increases in per-capita food production since 1961. Europe saw a decline after 1990, associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but has recovered since 2000. North America has witnessed a continued small decline since 1990, but since rather than malnutrition affects a large portion of this region's population, this decline is not worrisome (Flegal et al. 1998).

What are the prospects for increasing food production in the future to meet growing demands? In the case of food, there is no finite resource from which humans are drawing. While the available land itself may be a finite resource, our ability to extract a greater yield from existing land offers us a growing resource in the future. Thus the question turns to the potential limits on future yield enhancements. As mentioned above, yield increases have occurred historically as the result of the development of high-yielding crop varieties coupled with the application of irrigation and fertilizers. Therefore, limits in these respects would include lack of further crop cultivar development, running out of water (which is already evident in several regions of the world), or running out of fertilizers. On the demand side, the need for increased food production is driven by projected increases in population and consumption. Let us look at each of these in turn.

Potential Limits to Increased Food Production

An examination of the yield changes over the last fifty years may provide clues on how the situation might change in the future. Some studies suggest that yield growth rates are slowing down or have even reached a plateau (e.g., Brown 1997). Indeed, while yields have increased dramatically over the last fifty years (Figure 2.9), yield growth rates have decreased for all major crops except maize. Wheat, in particular, experienced an almost 4% annual growth rate in the 1960s, but only a 0.5% per year since 2000. This slowdown in yield growth might reflect the slower growth in demand for these products (FAO 2002). Another way to examine this issue is to look at the "yield gaps" (i.e., the difference between current yields and maximum realizable yields under current levels of technology). The yield gap in this case reflects primarily the differences in land management (e.g., irrigation, fertilizer application), which farmers can realize if they have economic incentives. Such a comparison for wheat shows that, although global wheat yields seem to be slowing down, there is still sufficient room for improving yields in many countries, even without the development of new technologies.

Will enough water and fertilizer be available in the future to increase food production? A comparison of current and future water withdrawals for irrigation to the renewable water resources suggests that while water use for irrigation is nearing the limits in some regions, such as the Near East, North Africa, and publication suggests that economically recoverable deposits of phosphate rock will only last another 90 years (Vaccari 2009).

Technological improvements, including the use of biotechnology, can potentially boost yields further through the development of high-yielding crop varieties, new salt and drought-tolerant varieties of crops, crops that can better withstand pests and diseases, or crops with higher nutritional value. Still, the potential benefits of such technological development, especially the widespread use of biotechnology, bring potential risks as well (FAO 2002). Biotechnology holds the promise of being able to deliver results quickly, helping to alleviate poverty and hunger in developing countries; however, appropriate policies need to be developed to alleviate and avoid the potential risks.

Potential Drivers of Increased Food Production: Increasing Demand

The need for greater food production is driven by increases in food demand from a growing population with increasing consumption. World population is expected to increase from 6.7 billion people in 2007 to 9.2 billion by 2050 according to the medium-variant projection of the United Nations (with a range of 7.8-10.8 billion) (UN 2007). Almost all of this increase is expected to occur in the developing countries of the world. This increase in population, by itself, will increase food demand by 37% (range of 16-61%). As such, this could probably be met, given the discussion in the previous section. However, the transition toward more meat-based diets, particularly as incomes rise in developing countries, is a crucial factor that will substantially impact demand even beyond this level.

Today, 35% of all grain (and three-fifths of all coarse grain6) is fed to livestock (Table 2.3) (FAO 2002). While developed nations still dominate in terms of the proportion of cereals devoted to animal feed, the fastest growth has occurred in developing nations. The proportion of grain devoted to animal feed decreased since 1960 in high-income countries (North America), but increased rapidly in low-income countries (Asia, Central America and Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, South America, Sub-Saharan Africa). This has been dubbed the "livestock revolution": the rising consumer demand for livestock products in developing countries with rapid population growth, rising incomes, and urbanization (Delgado et al. 1999; Wood and Ehui 2005). From 1982-1992, while the demand for meat increased by 1% per year in developed countries, it increased by 5.4% per year in developing countries (Wood et al. 2000). The IMPACT (International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade) model from the International Food Policy Research Institute projects that global cereal production will increase by 56% and livestock production by 90% between 1997 and 2050, with developing countries

Maize, sorghum, barley, rye, oats, millet, and some regionally important grains such as teff (Ethiopia) or quinoa (Bolivia and Ecuador).

Table 2.3 Grain fed to livestock as a percent of total grain consumed (World Resources Institute 2007).
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