‘Almost three billion will go hungry by 2050’

Need to know: The bar chart (left) shows how much populations grew between 2000 and 2018.

Can we feed everyone? Tomorrow is World Food Day. We already make enough for 10 billion people, and yet one in nine humans does not have enough food. How did that happen?

Thirty years from now, there will be 9.7 billion people on Earth. Almost three billion of them will not have enough food.

The solution might seem simple: grow more. But that alone won’t be enough.

We already produce enough food for 10 billion people — enough for everyone alive today and two billion yet unborn.

But across the world, more than one in nine people are chronically hungry.

Why? There are two main reasons. First, roughly 30 to 40% of all food is wasted, often because developing countries lack the infrastructure to refrigerate food. By the time it arrives at local markets, most of it is spoiled or lost.

And the global population is growing fastest in areas where food is already scarce.

While numbers start to stagnate or even decline in developed nations, high birth rates mean that one billion more people will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.

Second, only 55% of crop calories go to feed people directly. The rest is grain for cattle and chickens.

As countries like India and China grow more prosperous, their middle classes are demanding richer diets of meat and eggs.

This means we’ll need yet more grain for livestock, while food is diverted away from the humans who need it most.

The climate crisis complicates the picture. Aside from destroying biodiversity and polluting the environment, agriculture accounts for about 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which are rapidly heating the planet.

Droughts and floods, crop failures, soil erosion… The effects are already being felt.

The worst affected, in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, will be those least responsible: the 10 hungriest nations contribute only 0.08% of global emissions.

So, how can we feed our planet’s growing population without destroying the planet?

According to National Geographic, high-tech precision farming techniques will rapidly increase yields, giving us more food without the need to expand.

Meanwhile, farmers in hot climates will have to diversify their crops as maize and rice struggle to grow in rising temperatures.

But, above all, we must free up food by switching our diets away from grain-fed meat to plants, which take up less space and produce less emissions. Will it work?

Waste not, want not

No. The obstacles facing us are vast. We must get everyone — India and China, as much as the West — to stop eating meat. We must build a huge “cold train” network in developing countries to keep food refrigerated (which will be expensive and produce more carbon dioxide), all while reducing emissions to halt the destruction of our planet.

Yes. Tech is already being used to make more ‘green’ food, and developments are accelerating. India, for example, is investing in methods that will lead to less food waste. Chinese investment in Africa will bring the same benefits there. It will be a huge project requiring much investment and the re-imagining of the food industry — but we have all the tools to feed everyone.

You Decide

  1. Is it wrong to eat meat?
  2. What are some ways that we could help world hunger?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are a leader of one of the most powerful countries on Earth. Write down the five main issues your government would focus on.
  2. It is almost World Food Day. Write an ode in praise of your favourite food.

Some People Say...

“A hungry man is not a free man.”

Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-1965), US politician

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Over 820 million people are going hungry, which amounts to one in every nine. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults aged 18 years and older were overweight. Of these, over 650 million adults were obese. Around 13% of the world’s adult population is obese. In seven sub-Saharan African countries, more than 35% of the population do not have enough to eat.
What do we not know?
Whether agriculture will ever be able to be environmentally sustainable while providing all the food we need to save the planet. “Dietary change is essential if global warming is not to exceed 2C,” a major Chatham House report concluded in 2014. In terms of biodiversity, almost two-thirds of mammals on Earth are livestock (mostly cows and pigs).

Word Watch

Chronically
When something happens negatively for a long time.
Infrastructure
Physical structures like roads, buildings and equipment that support a society.
Stagnate
Stop growing.
Biodiversity
Some ecosystems, like Brazil’s Atlantic forest, have been completely destroyed to make room for farmland. The diversity of crops we go has decreased by 75% in the last century too.
Polluting
Through pesticides, fertilisers and animal waste that get into water sources.
Agriculture
Farming crops or animals.
Diversify
To vary the range of products.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.