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Food Supply in the World In 2050 Alex Rogers, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4RY. Also International Programme on State of the Ocean (http://www.stateoftheocean.org). By 2050 projections of population increase suggest that there will be 9 billion humans on Earth. This represents a significant challenge to us in food production. To meet the demand of such a population explosion we will need to increase production of cereals from 2.1 to 3 billion tonnes per annum and meat from 200 million tonnes to 470 million tonnes. Eighty percent of this additional food production is supposed to come through increased efficiency of agriculture with twenty percent coming from farming of new land. Achieving such figures of production are based bringing some of the most unproductive and basic agricultural systems, mostly in the developing world, up to western levels of productivity. From 1964 to 2004 output of crops increased on average by 2% a year achieving an increase of 144% over the forty-‐year period. Thus, it is tempting to think that the increases in food production required by 2050 are relatively easy to achieve. However, a closer look at agriculture and the state of the planet indicate that this is not the case. In many of the world’s most important areas for the growing of cereals there has been a plateau of production for 25 years or more. This is because following the release of productive varieties of wheat, rice and other crop plants production has reached 80-‐85% of the genetic potential of these crops. The genomes of these species, produced through millions of years of evolution, simply cannot be manipulated any further through conventional breeding and hybridization, to produce more food. About 70% of the world’s water use is by agriculture, with this figure rising to 85-‐90% regionally in areas such as Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and sub-‐Saharan Africa. It is thought that overall 5-‐25% of water use is from non-‐sustainable resources, such as fossil water with this figure rising to 10-‐35% for agriculture. Increasing yields through the use of fertilisers led to an increase of sevenfold in the quantities of nitrogen fertilisers between 1960 and 1995 and phosphorus by 3.5 fold. Both of these will increase by another threefold by 2050 if the current pattern of use continues. In many parts of the world pesticides are also used heavily to maintain crop yields and global use amounted to about 2.5 million tonnes in 2000. The quantities released and methods of use of fertilisers and pesticides are incredibly damaging to the environment and to human health. We are also faced with the simple fact that agriculture developed in the Middle East and spread across temperate to warm temperate latitudes for a very good reason. It is in this belt that large areas of land lie in a relatively benign climate with rich soils. Elsewhere, the environment is not so benign for agriculture with poor soils, low levels of water supply, extreme weather conditions and an abundance of pests and disease. These problems are significant challenges in themselves but coupled with the emerging threat of climate change and the new markets for biofuels, meeting the global demand for food by 2050 becomes a titanic task. The failure in Copenhagen to reach a deal to limit CO2 emissions means that by 2050 levels of CO2 will reach 450 – 500ppm. This means a temperature increase of up to 2 degrees C, an increasingly acidic ocean and more frequent extreme weather events. The impacts on agriculture will be complex and geographically very unevenly spread. Most negative impacts will fall on developing states, particularly Africa, where crop yields may decline as much as 15-‐30% by the end of the century. Elsewhere, crop yields may increase with expansion of areas for cropping and increased length of growing season. The likely overall effect of this will be an increase in food prices and a decrease in food security. Increased biofuel production will also have similar impacts. All of this will occur with a shift of population from rural living to urban environments. In the oceans, the full disaster of overexploitation, pollution and climate change will be coming to fruition by 2050 if we continue as in the present day. All of the major fish stocks exploited presently will have collapsed because of overfishing. This will be combined with the impacts of ecosystem collapse. Coral reefs will be in severe decline, with many completely destroyed (possibly the entire Caribbean reef system), or in a severely degraded state (mixed coral / algal systems). Dead zones will have increased in number and area, some coastal regions will be plagued by blooms of deadly toxic algae or huge swarms of jellyfish. So severe will these affects be that they will have a negative impact on the health of people living on the coast in some regions. Changes in the distribution of marine animals and plants, in response to climate change will severely impact those in developing countries, with again, Africa, being most severely impacted. Many species will go extinct as a result of environmental change or competition from invasive species. Given such a picture what are we likely to be eating in 2050? There is no doubt that increasing problems with food security will, by 2050, have forced the UK and Europe to emphasise local agricultural production as a source of food. Exotic foodstuffs that we have become used to buying everyday in supermarkets will become scarce and expensive. If agriculture is well managed over coming years we may see a resurgence in home (EU)-‐grown sustainably produced fruit and vegetables. Individual households, where they have access to land, will almost certainly increasingly “grow their own” as a result of rising food prices and problems with unreliable food supply. Increasingly, we will see a closure of the food cycle, with waste being recycled as fertiliser or feed for animals such as chickens or cultured fish. Cereals will be produced in the familiar intensive way but with an increased reliance on high technology to optimise the use of fertilisers and pesticides. This is not simply driven by a green agenda but will be forced by the increased cost of production of such chemicals through soaring energy costs. Rice will largely disappear from western diets because of huge demand and price in Asia and decreasing yields because of the requirement of this crop for large quantities of water. Meat is incredibly resource intensive to produce; a single kg of beef requires 7kg of grain to produce and 14t of water. This figure falls to 4kg for pork and 2kg for poultry. As food prices increase and supplies become more uncertain, there will certainly be a shift away from red meat in the diet. By 2050 we are likely to be eating beef and pork as luxury items for special occasions. We will also eat less poultry but this will probably remain a regular source of protein. These animals will be farmed intensively and will be fed on recycled materials, either food waste or other forms of agricultural or animal wastes. Organically produced free-‐range poultry will again be a luxury item because of the use of land to raise such animals will be hard to justify given elevated prices of grains and other plant crops. Wild-‐caught fish will have largely disappeared from our diets, so no more tuna, mackerel, cod and such like. The aquaculture industry will also be moving away from salmonids and other predatory marine species, many of which are now fed on wild-‐caught fish. Instead aquaculture will concentrate on shellfish (mussels, oysters etc.) where marine and estuarine systems are still sufficiently safe for such activities. Freshwater fish species that feed on plants or recycled/waste material will increasingly appear on our menus, so look out for carp in your local restaurant. It is also likely that algal culture for production of fuels and perhaps even protein will have become a significant industry by this time. It is almost certain that genetically modified organisms will have to become a part of the agricultural system. The resistance to the adoption of such technologies in the 1990s will be regarded as a luxury that can no longer be supported by the state of the world’s food resources. GMO cereals and even animals will be commonplace in our foods. Given all of this, our diets will change, and in some ways we will benefit from a lower intake of calories and saturated fats. However, we will see a significant reduction in food choice and an increasing proportion of our earnings going to pay for food. Elsewhere in the world, people will not be so lucky. Soaring food prices and insecure supplies of food will lead to an increase in malnutrition. We see evidence of this already; since the 1990s the number of malnourished people actually increased from 842 million to over a billion in recent years, despite an increase in food production. A lack of investment in general infrastructure will mean that many of the world’s major killer diseases, especially those associated with poor sanitation and water supply will increase their toll on the populations of developing countries. Intensive farming of animals, especially poultry, and the continued use of antibiotics in such operations will lead to increased levels of food-‐borne pathogenic disease, such as Salmonella or Campylobacter and a massively increased risk of global pandemics, the latter threatening all human societies. Dwindling natural resources, such as water, and an inability to stabilise regions of the world that suffer from poor governance will lead to a world that is less safe and increasing levels of conflict which will threaten food supplies and supplies of fuel and raw materials. In many respects, such a gloomy picture could be dramatically improved if action is taken now at all levels of society to alter the current trajectory that human society is on. In many cases, such as the global problem of overfishing, we know all the solutions and have the capacity to implement them at a relatively small cost compared to the potential gains. Business interests, lack of political will and public apathy and lack of education currently inhibit the changes that have to be made. For our children to inherit a wrecked planet, all we have to do is nothing....
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