The ongoing discussion about future food and fuel needs has reached a fever pitch in recent years as frequently cited United Nations data estimates nine billion people will call Earth home by 2050.
The challenge of feeding a growing population – and tackling meat and food demands of a growing middle class – is a task agricultural researchers have been pondering for some time. It's also a topic the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology in Ames, Iowa, has examined in a new issue paper, "Food Fuel and Plant Nutritient Use in the Future," released Monday.
There are a variety of factors that will play into the future of agriculture, with the most vital being food production ability and capacity, nutrient conservation and management, and biofuels' impact on feedstuff availability. Research commonly finds that each will be intertwined, creating a web of agricultural issues for the future.
One of the most widely used figures for the future of world population is the estimate that there will be 9 billion mouths to feed globally by 2050. CAST paper authors point out that population growth and agriculture's response isn't a cut-and-dry topic; it will require estimation of food needs, availability of arable land, and nutrient availability. Moreover, the paper says, population shifts and changing tastes will further complicate future estimations.
Annual world consumption of cereals and food, the authors note, is expected to increase by 47% and 65%, respectively, from current levels to 2050. However, global meat and dairy consumption is projected to turn in a 97% increase. Most of the increase, paper authors write, will be in China, India and in South and East Asia, where growing wealth allows increased participation in meat and dairy markets.
As production must rise to meet demands, transportation and distribution outlets will continue to be stressed. Poor economies and troubled education systems, the report says, will require continued food aid. Countries with undernourished populations will only continue to grow; projections estimate that current population of 580 million undernourished people will rise to 1.4 billion by 2050.
Are genetics the answer?
Authors say genetics will play a big role in improving crop efficiency and promoting soil conservation and effective nutrient management. They may also be the key to unlocking higher yields using the same land area.