Why is food security such a pressing issue?
The convergence of many factors contributes to the challenge of achieving food security: persistent poverty and undernourishment; expected population growth, income growth and changing consumption patterns; the required boost in agricultural production; climate change; and water scarcity.
The United Nations estimates that 842 million people – approximately one in eight – are undernourished today. The majority live in developing countries, where more than 14 percent of people are unable to meet their dietary energy requirements. The highest prevalence of undernourishment is in sub-Saharan Africa; undernourishment also remains a significant challenge in western Asia. Globally, the total number of undernourished people has fallen by 17 percent since 1990. Progress has been made in southern Asia, northern Africa and most countries of eastern and southeastern Asia, as well as in Latin America.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates the world’s population will reach 9.6 billion people by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. Much of this increase is projected to come from developing countries, where populations will rise 39 percent by 2050 and an additional 17 percent by 2100. The most dramatic growth is likely to occur in the least developed countries of the world.
Rising incomes around the world have led to improvement in the diets of tens of millions of people. As incomes rise above the basic subsistence level, diets diversify and move beyond grains to include protein, sugar/sweeteners, fats and oils. Accelerating urbanization also contributes to changing diets. By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in cities.
A significant boost in global food production will be necessary to meet growing demand. The increase will need to come from improvements in yields and productivity on existing farmland as well as bringing limited and appropriate lands into production. For the food system to become more productive, sustainable and reliable, agricultural raw materials will need to be grown where resources provide the greatest production efficiency and can be renewed so that production can continue for many years.
All the things that are challenging about producing food for a growing, more affluent population become more interdependent when faced with the range of possible impacts of a changing climate. In a period of accelerated climate change, the question is whether the food systems upon which we rely can adapt. Climate change will likely have both positive and negative implications for agriculture. Potential positives include the opportunity for double/triple cropping; improved genetics; and expansion of growing areas to Northern Latitudes. Potential negatives include a net negative impact on yields due to higher temperature and more variable precipitation; increasing frequency of extreme weather events; and the pace of climate change potentially exceeding our adaptive capacity.
Almost half the world’s population could be living under severe water stress by 2050 according to projections from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This water scarcity presents a major obstacle to increasing agricultural production.