The Future of Food. Next 30 Years


By 2040, the world’s population might reach 9,1 billion people, and this is 34% higher than today. It is obvious that the population will mostly increase in the developing countries. We should also understand that the tendency for urbanization will continue and almost 70% of global population will be urban. Income levels will also increase. All above mentioned factors mean that people will have much higher demands on food, feed, fuel and fiber. People will face a number of problems, such as land competition, high demands on water, climate changes and lack of natural resources. The land, which is available for food production, will not be able to meet the demands, which means that people will have to develop and use new agricultural engineering technologies. This paper explores the main demands of people for food, fiber, feed and fuel in the next 30 years. It also researches different environmental impacts that might happen if all of the demands of growing population will be fulfilled. Furthermore, the last point highlights about different shifts in crops production area, the pests control and about different diseases prevalence.

Keywords: food, fiber, fuel, feed, environmental impacts, shifts, pest control, disease prevalence.

The Future of Food. Next 30 years

The needs for food, fiber and fuel are directly proportional to the number of people who live on planet Earth. Everyone became very concerned when the world’s population reached the seven billion mark. It was a crucial moment, because people started bothering how it had happen so fast. The world’s population hit the tree billion score in 1960s and since then the number of people was adding a billion every 13 years. It is obvious that people are concerned about the future of population (Corkhill, 2012). The world’s needs for food, fuel, fiber, and feed (meaning fresh water) are now the subject of high political concern. Almost all of the programs that are related to forestry, types of energy, all environmental issues and agriculture can be found in the agenda of every United Nations body and all research institutes. The most popular agriculture projections are the International Food Policy Research Institute and Food Agriculture Organization (Nyheter, 2011). According to the numbers provided by UN food and Agriculture Organization, the world’s population might reach 9,1 billion by 2040. Generally speaking, the demand for food might grow twice as rapidly as the number of earthlings (Corkhill, 2012). Moreover, the urbanization will continue to grow on rapidly what means that its number will grow to 70%, so we can compare that to the current number of 49%. This will also influence the income levels. Everything must provoke the food and feed demands to become 70% higher than they are now. The food that is produced for the biofuel production is already included here. The current number of cereal production is 2,1 billion tones and it will have to rise to almost 3 billion in 30 years. If we discuss the meat production, the current number is 270 million tones and it will have to increase to 470 million tones till 2040. In addition to, we should not forget that according to the figures provided by executive summary, 72% will be produced for the developing countries (FAO, 2009). The UN report says that gaining this aim will demand major rises in saturated, high-efficiency cattle production for meat and dairy production. According to FAO the current number of cattle is 1,5 billion, the number of pigs is 1 billion and the number of chickens is even higher as it makes 6 billion. Now we should imagine that this number is to be doubled (Palacio, 2012). The most demanded food products will be oilseeds and animal protein for sure. The needs for the oilseeds and vegetable oils might even triple, so this will make 25 million tones. The production of cereal will have to increase by 1 billion tones. It is quite obvious that the most demand will take place in the developing countries. The researchers are sure that the number of sub-Saharan population in Africa might rise at the most accelerated pace, it will be 114% of all world’s increase, however, the East and Southeast Asia will have the lowest percentage, and it will be 3%. Concluding from all above mentioned, the market might need both food and animal feed to go to the mark of 3 billion tones by 2050, and we can compare the figure with today’s 2,1 billion tones. The international trade will also expand dramatically. The number of cereal imports will rise mostly in the developing countries, and they will grow tree-fold, what will mean that they will reach ‘300 billion’ point in 30 years. Therefore, this will also show that the technology of cereal would not be improved in the countries that are depending on the imports. This can lead to a tendency for small farm production to decrease; the researchers are concerned that probably it can go down from the point of 59% to 54% (FAO, 2009). Generally speaking, according to the figures given by FAO in Global agriculture towards 2050, China and India will make a crucial change in the global food needs. It is suggested by a new study Food 2040 that in China, the number of family members that have the income more than $20,000 is to increase to 335 million even in 2020; we can compare this with current number which is only 100 million. The number of population in India will be greater than in China, but there will definitely be much more people of middle class, however, the number of Indian households who earn more than $20,000 will be 85 million of people in 2020; in comparison to current number of 25 million (FAO, 2009). Long-term food security can easily face some risks, and here we can name the raised biofuel production that leads to climate changes. Generally speaking, we should understand that nowadays the food and fiber are used to be converted into the fuel on a really large scale. It is generally estimated that the biofuel production, which is based on agricultural goods production, has increased more than one third during eight years since 2000. The number of coarse grains that are used for the production of ethanol has reached the figure of 110 million tones and this is practically 10% of the entire world’s production. The usage of biofuel makes the global demand for food to be much higher; moreover, it also depends on the prices on energy and the politics that is lead in the country. According to FAO projections, the global biofuel production might raise to as much as 192 billion liters in as soon as 2018, but the need for agricultural feed stocks, such as oilseeds, maize and sugar for biofuel will only continue to increase over the next ten years, what will definitely make the prices on food only higher (FAO, 2009). There is a general tendency of becoming more and more interested in bioenergy, and here we can include biofuel production, much higher oil prices, some general instability in oil-producing regions. Bioenergy sector is very unstable. It is already estimated by IEA that the usage of biofuel will raise really fast due to the increasing of oil prices and the support of this idea by the government. It is obvious that the increasing usage of bioenergy might result in severe competition for the land. The production of biofuel has also its drawbacks, it definitely gives the biofuel waste, we can include in the waste the recycled plant oil and different kinds of bio-waste. The need in fiber can also poses a lot of problems. The researchers are sure that the Europe might face the deficit in wood in already 2030; it will be 200-300 million m3 per every year. We can compare that the demand for the industrial forest was 1,60 billion m3/ year, and it will grow to almost 2,0 billion in 2030. It is obvious that for the production of such huge number of fiber, it will be required to increase the number of fiber plantations. That is the reason why the highly productive land will be used not to produce the food, but to produce even additional 400 million m3 of food every year (Nilsson et al., 2007). Moreover, wood will be used for the biofuel sector; however, in this case, people are using the wood of much lower quality. Although, the use of wood in this sector has the drawback as it is of more expensive processing cost in comparison to sugar or maize (Roberts, White, & Nilsson, 2008).  The water should be used more efficiently, people need to think about basin-wide scales and then to divide the water among quality and quantity demands for energy, agriculture, urban consumption or fishery use. It is obvious that climate change in several years will definitely make it much harder to manage the global water and it means that the entire water cycle might be affected. People should understand that we have to use the water, forests, fisheries and land more efficiently if we want to receive all of the products without damaging these resources through overuse or pollution. The increase of aquaculture will have to develop from species, which are not depending on feed that comes from the fishmeal, as the current situation is such that 40% of aquaculture is dependent on industrial feed, which includes coastal ecosystems and marine systems that are already stressed. ¾ of fish spices are already exhausted and if people continue to use fisheries in such a way, there will be almost no fish species left till 2050 (World Bank, 2010). Nevertheless, the demand for fish will definitely increase, especially in China and Eastern Asia. Fish is the most internationally imported food for various commodities. European countries, North America and other nations are importing fish from different developing countries too. This tendency will only grow and demand for the fish import will only rise.

What will happen with the environment if the needs for food, feed, fuel and fiber will be fulfilled?

Environmental impacts are unwished byproducts of economic and agricultural activities. Large number of environmental impacts includes such categories, as land use competition, acidification, global warming, and climate change. Agriculture and food usage might provoke the strongest environmental pressure; it can result in habitat changes and toxic emissions (UNEP, 2010, p.30-31). One of the environmental pressures that should be mentioned is a climate change. It affects not only natural, but also managed systems, and here the researchers include the forest systems, different fisheries, coral reefs, wetlands and the agriculture itself. These systems are used by people for production of food, fuel and fiber. It is obvious that the climate change might affect the yields in a very negative way, which will create a huge problem in food production for the constantly increasing global population (Nyheter, 2011). Generally speaking, the climate change will affect the agriculture though much higher temperatures and that will influence the amount of water that the crops will need to be produced. The agriculture will definitely suffer from the acid rain falls and will be pressed by a number of floods and droughts. Consequently, the global average yields will be much lowered. It is obvious that population of the world will decline. People will suffer from more failures with crops (UNEP, 2010). The climate change is very much influenced by CO2 emissions. According to the analysis, the current agriculture sphere produces from 20 to 40% of all domestic emissions. In 2050, this number might grow by 15% (UNEP, 2010, p.22). The production of food requires a lot of water. There is enough of water globally, but some of the areas are suffering from water shortage. The water should be used more efficiently. 70% of global water resources are used for the farming (Nyheter, 2011). It is widely hailed that most of natural resources, which are globally used, are already on the verge of degradation and exhaustion. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment states that 15 out of 24 ecosystems have already degraded. Moreove, we can include the capture of fisheries and definitely, the problems, which concern water supplies (Nyheter, 2011). Food production exhausts the land to a huge extends.  The land is suffering from erosion, the lack of freshwater reserves and soil nutrient depletion. This will lead to the fact that the potential of land to produce the food will continue to decrease with alarming pace. It is hard to imagine that our natural global resources will be ready to adequately meet the global demands (FAO, 2009). Also, the amount of land that is hoped to feed people in 2050 will greatly depend on the amount of meat that people are eating. It is so, because the production of meat requires a lot of land. The competition for the land is severe, as there is less and less amount of land that can be suitable for numerous kinds of cultivations (Nyheter, 2011). According to the ISRIC assessment, about 23% of world’s agricultural land is already exhausted. It is estimated that East and Southeast Asia might have different environmental problems, because of the availability, quantity and quality for land and water used. The stress on Asia natural resources will only increase. The world’s demand for water might rise to 60% as soon as 2025, but it will definitely double before 2050 (USDA, 2011, p.135). According to one research of multiple studies, the general agricultural productivity might decrease 3%, because of high numbers of carbon emissions if there will be carbon fertilization before 2080.  However if there will be no carbon fertilization, the global numbers might rise to 16%. The developing countries might suffer even more, because the numbers might grow to 9% with fertilization and 21% without it. One analysis already shows that Asia and Africa will definitely suffer from severe drops in yields as soon as 2030. Moreover, Africa will suffer from less and less suitable land for the agriculture, it is estimated that the amount of land with highly severe climate and soil constrains will increase from 26 million hectares to almost 61 million hectares. That is more than 20% of arable land in Africa (World Bank, 2010, p.146).

What will be the shifts in crop production area, pest control and agricultural disease prevalence?

Agricultural biotechnology will change to a large extend. The number of consumers will grow, they will need to eat more, but the competition for agricultural land and water will still remain, that is why there will appear a need for agricultural leapfrogging. If we take China, they will shift to GMOs in crops and imports, what will help them to persuade the producer countries to use even more firmly the new agricultural biotechnology (USDA, 2011, p.36). The world will face the new era of agriculture. The crops production will be much more developed than the meat production, because people will consume more grains. The crop production will be characterized by higher value, by nutrient enhancement and also by organic nature. The idea of bioengineering of crops will be already applied to the millions of acres and not only in theory (USDA, 2011, p.22). It is predicted that China will pay a lot of attention to different water issues and by using biotechnology they will create plants that will demand much less water. It means that these crops might make use of saline, polluted or other low quality water. They are also interested in creating an urban agriculture, which means that they will again use biotechnology to turn to vertical farming. This farming will be based on hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics, and it will cut the needs for energy and transport costs. The most important issue will be to create some special various types of crops that will be planted on previously unusable land (USDA, 2011, p.27). It is obvious that changing climate conditions might even shift the crop production to the north and more altitude regions. It will provide more potential impacts, because there will be no depending on growing seasons and the winters will be warmer and milder, the frost will be not so severe in autumn and winter, it will also be less frequent. Accordingly, it means that the yield in the regions of Northern Europe might rise up to 70%; however, they will fall by more than 22% in some southern regions. The plant protection, which is used now, is highly targeted; however, because of changing climate conditions, it will be important to use new practical applications that will be efficient in fighting emerging pests and plant diseases (Copa – Cogeca, 2008). Elevated carbon dioxide concentration will definitely lead to pests and disease pressure. According to the data provided by Food 2040, China will use gene stacking technologies; they will allow inserting multiple transgenic traits into crops. It will help crops to be absolutely herbicide resistant, pest resistant and increase their functional characteristics (USDA, 2011, p.72). However, it is obvious that people will not forget the usage of pesticides; that is why the idea will be to shift to green agriculture, which means that farmers will use much safer pesticides and biotech seeds (USDA, 2011, p.137). The farmers will deal with diseases by closing yield gaps. This helps to make the plants more resilient to different biotic stress, such as different insects, diseases and viruses (FAO, 2009, p.22). However, the strongest assistance in controlling diseases in crops might be provided only by genetic engineering. According to Dunley, the future of pest management will be bright. He is sure that pests will have much narrower spectrum; people are already using more specific pests that have less effect on the natural enemies and are of much better environmental-friendly nature. It is also quite possible that natural enemies might be genetically modified to be resistant to some pests; it means that they will be able to survive and even provide biological control that will help to fight toxic strategies. Dunley is sure that genetically modifies plant would not be something strange anymore and they will be already resistant to different pests and diseases. The computer will play very important role, since it will be much easier to monitor different insects and to receive alerts if any problems will be spotted anywhere (Wagner, 2008).

A lot may change in 30 years, because it is a very long period of time. If we consider how much changed during the last 30 years, we will understand that the changes that are only waiting for us are really great. However, I hope that the usage of genetic engineering will not be as popular as it is predicted. It would be much better if organic production increase. Hopefully, the food produced will be of high quality and it will be done in efficient and definitely in environmentally-friendly way. I do believe that the population will increase rapidly and to very high numbers. It will be hard to produce food, fiber, fuel in enough amounts preserving the environment, what is a pity for me personally. We will have to face changes in different spheres, because of environmental impacts. I believe that the market might move to the developing countries, because we can observe this tendency even now. We need to adopt more efficient and sustainable production methods and it is obvious that a lot will depend on the climate changes and natural resources. All it might present us with both, different opportunities and risks. However, I hope that people will manage to meet the growing demands. People will definitely have to use the alternative energy resources more, because it will help to reduce the CO2 emissions, which will prevent the fast pace of climate changes. Renewable sources of energy will play crucial role in the changing world, because they will provide the possibility to have more secure and sustainable energy way. All of the natural resources, especially water and fossil fuels should be used efficiently from now on, because the demands will only grow and the nature would be absolutely unable to satisfy them. I know that it is almost impossible, but to my mind, the only possible way to dramatically reduce the negative agricultural impacts on environment is to change the overall world’s diet. It means that people should cut on meat products. It is estimated that too much grain and water is wasted to grow animals that will later become somebody’s dinner. The only possible way to do this is to develop the aquaculture more, because it might help to compensate.  Finally, I believe it is wise to settle these problems on the international level, leading one and the same policy, because the changes in one country might affect the rest of the world.

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