Future Food Demand May Have Been Overestimated

GLOBAL - People have been saying for years that food production must double by 2050 to feed the world's growing population, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the future of agriculture.
calendar icon 28 February 2017
clock icon 3 minute read

Research published recently in Bioscience suggests that production likely will need to increase between 25 per cent and 70 per cent to meet 2050 food demand.

The assertion that we need to double global crop and animal production by 2050 is not supported by the data, argues Mitch Hunter, doctoral student in agronomy, in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

His analysis builds on the two most commonly cited food-demand projections, one from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and one led by David Tilman, a prominent ecologist at the University of Minnesota.

Mr Hunter and his colleagues updated these projections to help reframe the narrative.

So, while Dr Tilman's study showed that the world will demand 100 per cent more calories in 2050 than in 2005, that is the equivalent of only a 68 per cent increase over production levels in 2014, the most recent year with available data.

To meet the FAO projection, which used different assumptions and projected lower demand, production would have to increase only 26 per cent from 2014 levels.

"Given how much production has increased recently, it is pretty misleading to continue to argue that we need to double our crop output by 2050," Mr Hunter said.

The authors argue for research and policy efforts to help identify production methods that can meet growing global food demand while also hitting sustainability targets.

"Even with lower demand projections, growing enough food while protecting the environment will be a daunting challenge," Mr Hunter said. "We call on researchers, policymakers and farmers to embrace this recalibrated vision of the future of agriculture and start working toward these goals."

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