Feeding the World by 2050

By 2050, there will be two billion more people in the world. This means two billion more mouths to feed. The question is, how do we do this? How can we do it without overwhelming the planet and over-stretching its already scarce resource.

When we think about environmental threats, pictures of cars and smokestacks, and floods comes to mind. Famine which used to be a global threat has been relegated to the background lately. But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet. Much bigger in my opinion than climate change.

Understanding the current trend of global food crisis gives us the needed perspective to appreciating how serious the situation is.

What’s the cause of the current global food crisis like we see in Venezula? And how can this crisis be solved. Research has shown that more than half of the world’s population growth will occur in sub-Saharan Africa, a region where one-quarter of the population is currently undernourished. In addition to an increase in population, there has been a significant shift in diets with increasing emphasis on meat and milk foods which are more resource-intensive to produce than plant-based. Further, with the increasing nature of the food gap, the world will need to produce 69% more calories in 2050 than we did in 2006. While some professionals have attributed this widening food gap to the problem of distribution, I will say it’s not a redistribution problem. Even if we gathered all food produced in 2009 and redistributed it amongst the global population evenly, we would still need to produce by 2050 974 more calories per person.

With these challenges in sight, it will become extremely difficult to increase the world’s current food production without a negative environmental impact. Agriculture contributes nearly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

So what can be done?

The International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) conference in 2016 which was held in Aarhus Denmark, assembled global stakeholders in the food industry to discuss issues tailored towards addressing the question “what can be done?” to avert the impending world hunger by 2050. A general session and keynote discussion on “How can Europe contribute to Food security by 2050” was of particular interest to me.

Although the session focused on the role of Europe in enhancing global food security, lessons from the discussion could to extended to other continents. The discussants for this session included Phil Hogan-the European Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development. In his keynote address, commissioner mentioned that, “As the world population increases, there is the need to produce more food and good food” and that research and innovation was key to food security. To him “farming and agribusiness goes beyond providing food and feeding the world”. “An agriculture system that is built for the future cannot be built overnight”, he admitted. Brexit and its effect on agriculture policy in Europe were amongst numerous questions discussants dealt with.

Here are a few tips I gathered from the discussion which world leaders and stakeholders can adopt to eradicate world hunger by 2050:

  1. Reducing waste. 25% of world food are lost or wasted before they can be consumed. Food is lost between the farmer and market due to unavailability of of transportation and storage in poor countries. If only we could do better on reducing food waste today by eating left-overs, serving smaller portions, and encouraging restaurants to adopt wasted reducing measures, there will be plenty of food by 2050.
  2. Avoiding further deforestation must be a top priority. Land cleared for agriculture in the tropics does not contribute much to the world’s food security but is instead used to produce cattle, soybeans for livestock, timber, and palm oil.
  3. Using high-tech, precision farming systems, as well as approaches borrowed from organic farming, we could boost yields in these less productive farmlands in Africa, Latin America, and eastern Europe several times over.
  4. The efficient use of resources in both conventional and organic farming especially in the use of water and chemicals will play a huge role in feeding the word by 2050.

These solutions require a big shift in thinking and attitude. With these obvious steps, I am optimistic that there will be more than double of food supplies to feed the world by 2050. The world has the resources and technology to eradicate hunger and ensure long-term food security for all, in spite of many challenges and risks. It needs to mobilize political will and build the necessary institutions to ensure that key decisions on investment and policies to eradicate hunger are taken and implemented effectively. The time to act is now.

– Ray Opoku

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