Published on Voices

Food for thought

Appetizer of grasshoppers, seaweed soup, and as the main course, man-made burgers on the grill. Been twisting the nose? Yet we should get used to similar menus. According to UN estimates, to feed the 2.5 billion additional people, according to some forecasts, who will populate the Earth in 2050, we will need to double world food production, reduce waste, and experiment with food alternatives.

There has never been so much food. So why in the world do 842 million people suffer from hunger? In strictly quantitative terms, there is enough food to feed the entire world population of more than 7 billion people. Yet, one person in eight is hungry. In developing countries one child out of three is underweight.

Food would be sufficient for all if we all had the same or similar diets, in terms of caloric intake. Instead, diets are common in Western countries that border 5,000 calories a day, while hungry people live systematically below 2,000 calories. Many do not have food, on the one hand, and on the other, more than 1 billion people suffer from problems related to overweight and obesity that trigger diseases.

Today the food for the planet is represented by 2.4 billion tons of grain (wheat, corn, rice, etc.) produced annually, plus more than 300 million tons of meat, 780 million tons of dairy products, 160 million tons of fish, 500 million tons of oilseeds, and 180 million tons of sugar. This is the mountain that would be enough for adequate food around the world.

But it is very interesting to see how we spread this huge amount of cereal. Of the 2.4 billion tons, less than 50% is used for direct human consumption. Then there are 796 million tons used to produce food for animals which become the 300 million tons of meat that humans eat.

The other 450 million tons serve mainly for the production of biofuels, a phenomenon which has had a rapid expansion in recent years.

Of course, in trying to answer these huge questions mankind will rely on scientific and technological developments that will be applied in the production of food and feed. The issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has long been the center of attention and arouses decidedly mixed positions. But other perspectives are opened, linked to biotech foods, or the ability to change our diets, maybe finding the necessary proteins in insects or shellfish, rather than meat.

The planet's resources are not infinite, and therefore the idea that we can continue to grow in a geometric progression is not a realistic assumption. The current paradigm of intensive production can no longer keep up with the challenges of the new millennium. The stakes are obviously enormous.

Climate change is also a factor. Looking ahead to 2050, for every degree (C) rise in temperature, the corn crop goes down by 7%. Already we have seen a decline in world production by 4%.

Droughts and floods can skyrocket the price of basic foods, putting at risk the survival of millions of people. Even assuming a scenario not so dramatic, a 2012 Oxfam report warned that another drought in the United States by 2030 could increase the price of corn up to 140% above the average price of food in 2030, which is projected to be double current food prices. Droughts and floods in southern Africa could increase the selling price of corn and other cereals up to 120%.
A drought in India and extensive flooding in Southeast Asia could increase the price of rice in global markets by 25%. This could cause prices to increase by more than 43% in rice-importing countries such as Nigeria, one of Africa's most populous. Price increases like these would be a fatal blow for the poorest of the Earth, who spend up to 75% of their earnings on food.

For more on these issues, replay the World Bank Group-IMF Spring Meetings webcasts “Land Governance and Climate-Smart Agriculture” and “Future of Food.”

This post originally appeared on the Triptasy blog.


Kalyan Panja

#Blog4Dev contest winner

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