Food production must surge 70%, prices to rise: FAO

Posted by James Ferre on 14th October 2009

The issue of feeding the world’s growing population is under the spotlight this week at a High-Level Expert Forum on How to Feed the World in 2050.

Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, told 300 delegates that agriculture must become more productive if it is to feed a much larger world population while responding to the daunting environmental challenges ahead, with food needs to as much as double in the next four decades.

“The combined effect of population growth, strong income growth and urbanization … is expected to result in almost the doubling of demand for food, feed and fibre,” he advised.

“Agriculture will have no choice but to be more productive,” Diouf added, noting that increases would need to come mostly from yield growth and improved cropping intensity rather than from farming more land. He also noted that, “while organic agriculture contributes to hunger and poverty reduction and should be promoted, it cannot by itself feed the rapidly growing population.”

World population is projected to rise to 9.1 billion in 2050 from a current 6.7 billion, requiring a 70-percent increase in farm production, according to projection from the UN body.

Growing scarcity

In addition to a growing scarcity of natural resources such as land, water and biodiversity, “global agriculture will have to cope with the effects of climate change, notably higher temperatures, greater rainfall variability and more frequent extreme weather events such as floods and droughts,” Diouf warned.

“The challenge is not only to increase global future production but to increase it where it is mostly needed and by those who need it most,” he stressed. “There should be a special focus on smallholder farmers, women and rural households and their access to land, water and high quality seeds… and other modern inputs.”

Competition from bioenergyFood production would also face increasing competition from the biofuel market “which has the potential to change the fundamentals of agricultural market systems”, with production set to increase by nearly 90 percent over the next 10 years to reach 192 billion litres by 2018.

Food prices

The prices of food commodities like rice, wheat and sugar are likely to be volatile in the medium term with the FAO worried that the price surges seen in 2008 may occur once again.

Between 2006 and 2008, prices for basic food commodities soared by 60 per cent with much of the growth seen in the first half of 2008 as fears of a food crisis escalated. Such price rises led to riots and the hoarding of food, although prices have since moderated thanks to the global financial crisis. However, the FAO contends that pre-2006 prices will never be seen again for most commodities.

At the Forum, about 300 eminent experts from around the world reviewed and debated the investment needs, technologies and policy measures needed to secure the world’s food supplies on horizon 2050. It is calculated that US$44 billion a year of official development assistance (ODA) will need to be invested in agriculture in developing countries – against the $7.9 billion that is being spent now. Higher investments, including from national budgets, foreign direct investment and private sector resources, should be made for better access to modern inputs, more irrigation systems, machinery, storage, more roads and better rural infrastructures, as well as more skilled and better trained farmers.

Through its conclusions and recommendations the Forum will contribute to the debate and outcome of the World Summit on Food Security scheduled at FAO headquarters on November 16-18, to be attended by Heads of State and Government from FAO’s 192 Member Nations.