Food Security in Graphics from World Resources Institute

Readers please note that this post is cross-posted from the World Resources Institute, with the permission of its author, Janet Ranganathan. —K.M.

What’s Causing the Global Food Crisis?

Feeding an Exploding Population

The world’s population is projected to grow from about 7 billion in 2012 to 9.6 billion people in 2050. More than half of this growth will occur in sub-Saharan Africa, a region where one-quarter of the population is currently undernourished.


Shifting Diets

In addition to population growth, world’s per capita meat and milk consumption is also growing—especially in China and India—and is projected to remain high in the European Union, North America, Brazil, and Russia. These foods are more resource-intensive to produce than plant-based diets.


The Food Gap

Taking into account a growing population and shifting diets, the world will need to produce 69 percent more food calories in 2050 than we did in 2006.


It’s Not a Distribution Problem

We can’t just redistribute food to close the food gap. Even if we took all the food produced in 2009 and distributed it evenly amongst the global population, the world will still need to produce 974 more calories per person per day by 2050.


Agriculture’s Environmental Footprint

But we can’t just produce more food in the same way as today—we also must reduce food’s environmental impact. Agriculture contributes nearly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, uses 37 percent of landmass (excluding Antarctica), and accounts for 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawn from rivers, lakes, and aquifers.


Climate Change and Water Stress Exacerbate the Challenge

Climate change is expected to negatively impact crop yields, particularly in the hungriest parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa.


Growing water use and rising temperatures are expected to further increase water stress in many agricultural areas by 2025.


The Energy-Food Nexus

Another major challenge is biofuels’ competition for land and crops. Producing 10 percent of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2050, as planned by some governments, would require 32 percent of global crop production but produce only 2 percent of global energy. It would also increase the food gap to roughly 100 percent. Conversely, eliminating the use of crop-based biofuels for transportation would close the food gap by roughly 14 percent.


Food’s Role in Economic Development

Around 2 billion people are currently employed in agriculture, many of them poor. We need to close the food gap in ways that enhance the livelihoods of farmers, especially the poorest.


The “Great Balancing Act”

Achieving a sustainable food future, then, requires meeting three needs simultaneously: closing the food gap, supporting economic development, and reducing agriculture’s environmental impact.


What Are Some Solutions?

Reduce Food Loss and Waste

Roughly one-quarter of world’s food calories are lost or wasted between field and fork. Cutting this rate in half could close the food gap by about 20 percent by 2050.

<p>*Includes all crops intended for direct human consumption, animal feed, industrial uses, seeds, and biofuels.</p><br /><br />
*Includes all crops intended for direct human consumption, animal feed, industrial uses, seeds, and biofuels.


Shift to Healthier Diets

Beef is the least efficient source of calories and protein, generating six times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein than pork, chicken, and egg production. Shifting just 20 percent of the anticipated future global consumption of beef to other meats, fish, or dairy could spare hundreds of millions of hectares of forest and savannah.


Achieve Replacement Level Fertility

Reducing population growth can help hold down food demand. While most regions are projected to reach replacement level fertility—or the rate at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next—sub-Saharan Africa’s population is on course to more than double between now and 2050.


Boost Crop Yields

Boosting yields is particularly important in sub-Saharan Africa, which currently has world’s lowest cereal yields but will account for one-third of all additional calories needed in 2050.


Improve Land and Water Management

Conservation agriculture—such as reduced tillage, crop rotations, and mulching—increased maize yields in Malawi. Combining these techniques with agroforestry—intercropping with trees—further increased yields. These practices could be scaled up on more than 300 million hectares in sub-Saharan Africa.


Shift Agriculture to Degraded Lands

Shifting agriculture land expansion to degraded lands can prevent deforestation, protect resources, and curb climate change. For example, more than 14 million hectares of low-carbon degraded lands in Kalimantan, Indonesia are potentially suitable for oil palm development.


Increase Aquaculture’s Productivity

As wild fish catches have plateaued, aquaculture has expanded, producing nearly half of fish consumed in 2009. To grow in a sustainable way, aquaculture will need to produce more fish per unit of land and water and reduce its reliance on wild-caught fish for feed.


Closing the Food Gap

No one solution can create a sustainable food future. A menu of consumption- and production-focused strategies, including those presented here, can close the food gap and generate environmental, health, and development co-benefits. But governments, business, and others need to act quickly and with conviction to scale these solutions up.

<p>*Includes all crops intended for direct human consumption, animal feed, industrial uses, seeds, and biofuels.</p><br /><br />
*Includes all crops intended for direct human consumption, animal feed, industrial uses, seeds, and biofuels.


6 thoughts on “Food Security in Graphics from World Resources Institute

  1. RBM

    I’ve only browsed the post, but it looks like, from the headings, you covered all bases.

    In my personal life as a US resident who is most likely very rich by sub-Saharan Africa standards, I am presently experimenting with diet changes, that includes severe minimization of meat consumption.

    In the complexity that is 21st century life on this rock, I hope others can find their way, similarly.

    Thanks for the effort K.
    Take Care

    1. K. McDonald Post author

      Good to hear from you RBM, and I also tend to eat less meat all the time. Yet, the issue of eating/producing meat isn’t a simple black/white issue, either. As you know, years ago the large herbivores existed in the natural ecosystems of the world which were rich in biodiversity and grasslands. And, the rotational system of farming is a pretty good one.

  2. Harbans Lal

    Very interesting report. There is hope of light to take care of food crisis for the growing population using few simple steps. I have been always of the opinion that reducing waste could help considerably in this effort.

    I am surprised and slighly disappointed to see the project meat consumption in India. The majority of Indian Hindu population is considered and have been vegetarian. However, this could change with the monetary prospority which is quite evinient.

  3. DB

    Very good report. The graphs are easy to understand and make is easier to absorb what is quite a bit of information. Lots of “food for thought” here! Thanks for sharing it with us.


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