How to Feed the World in 2050

Net investments of $83 billion a year must be made in agriculture in developing countries if there is to be enough food to feed 9.1 billion people in 2050 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

By 2050 the world’s population will reach 9.1 billion, 34 percent higher than today. Nearly all of this population increase will occur in developing countries. Urbanization will continue at an accelerated pace, and about 70 percent of the world’s population will be urban (compared to 49 percent today). Income levels will be many multiples of what they are now. In order to feed this larger, more urban and richer population, food production (net of food used for biofuels) must increase by 70 percent. Annual cereal production will need to rise to about 3 billion tonnes from 2.1 billion today and annual meat production will need to rise by over 200 million tonnes to reach 470 million tonnes.

This report argues that the required increase in food production can be achieved if the necessary investment is undertaken and policies conducive to agricultural production are put in place. But increasing production is not sufficient to achieve food security. It must be complemented by policies to enhance access by fighting poverty, especially in rural areas, as well as effective safety net programmes.

Total average annual net investment in developing country agriculture required to deliver the necessary production increases would amount to USD 83 billion. The global gap in what is required vis-à-vis current investment levels can be illustrated by comparing the required annual gross investment of US$209 billion (which includes the cost of renewing depreciating investments) with the result of a separate study that estimated that developing countries on average invested USD 142 billion (USD of 2009) annually in agriculture over the past decade. The required increase is thus about 50 percent.

Basic Technology for Increasing Yields

Food production is increasing by a lot. The productivity of agricultural land will triple by 2030-2040. This not magic. Dozens of hectares with higher productivity are being grown now. China and other nations will scale them up.

This is all before going to building a lot of greenhouses which can boost productivity by 10-30 times. This is before the possible success of factory grown meat. Factory grown meat is now sold in restaurants. People pay more for the meat at high-end restaurants. It can be made to taste better. What if did not taste as good? Is it unnatural? People did not ask those questions about chicken nuggets. People love those things.

Factory grown meat can boost food productivity by 10X in terms of energy and water.

So we already have 2 to 3 times the food than we really need. The world can drop by 10 times and get by. Food production will go up 3 times within 20 years using business as usual agriculture. There is an option to use greenhouses on a larger scale for 30 times more food. Dedicated skyscrapers for greenhouses can boost food produced in a spot by 100X beyond greenhouses.