“We hear much talk of the problems we face in order to feed the 9 billion people expected to be populating the world by the year 2050. At one extreme is the answer that we should somehow limit the number of children born and at the other is the answer that the only way to feed the world is GM crop technology.
“I think the real problem and question we should be asking about feeding the world of 2050 is not just how we are going to produce enough food to feed 9 billion people, but how they are going to pay for that food.
This graphic comes from an article quoting from the Huffington Post, detailing many interesting agricultural innovations, but nowhere does it raise – let alone address – the subject of poorer people being unable to afford enough food, which Michael Hart highlights here.
Where will the jobs for an estimated 9 billion people in 2050 come from to enable them to pay for food?
“With a population of 6 billion at present we have about 10% unemployment in the developed world and about 30% unemployment in the developing world. If we add the underemployed, who only do a few days work now and then, that gives us a combined total of up to maybe 1.3 to 1.5 billion people who are either unemployed or who are underemployed – up to 25% of the worlds current population – who right now in 2012 have great difficulty in paying for their food due to little or no income.
There is also a policy in the developing world to push many people off their land and into urban areas – people who at present feed themselves and their family and often others in the local population – so that international agribusiness can take over the production of cash crop food for export.
“Nobody ever asks or answers the question what are these people, plus another 3 billion going to do for work in order to pay for their food in 2050.
Where will the employment for the extra 3 billion come from?
“Yes of course there will be some jobs created in the civil services of the world to service the extra population. But with our growing use of technology to do manual jobs, as robots build cars and other goods, as one computer now does the work of many people in accounting, banking or stock control in shops, where is the employment going to come from?
“The answer is of course that it will be no single or simple solution but that it will be number of solutions that will feed the world
- We waste 30% of the food we produce now so if we could reduce that to say 5% instead (there will always be some waste) we could feed another 1.5 billion people.
- If we rich developed country people with our obesity problems ate less, we would not only be healthier but also be able to feed more people. I don’t know of any research on this but I suspect it might feed another half a billion people.
- So of the extra 3 billion people by 2050 if we put in place these first two solutions we should be able to feed about 2 billion extra people, so we now need to only worry about feeding 1 billion extra mouths.
- In 2009 land available for food production but not used was 10 million hectares so if that was bought into production that would feed many more.
- Add to that new higher yielding varieties of crops which will be developed, better use of water and other resources in growing crops all of which would feed many more.
“I don’t see us having a major problem producing enough food and we will be able to feed the extra 3 billion by 2050 using these solutions, provided we are prepared to make those difficult decisions.
“We need to put in place infrastructures to distribute, preserve if needed and store food around the world, so that it can be moved from places where it is grown to the places where it is needed, at the time when it is needed.
“The solutions of feeding the world of 2050 will and can be found and I am sure the food will be there to feed them, but only if we make major decisions over the coming years, on food waste and of the amount of food available to each of us.
“The real problem and question we should be asking about feeding the world of 2050 is not just how we are going to produce enough food to feed 9 billion people, but how they are going to pay for that food.”
CIRAD is a French agricultural research organization, http://www.cirad.fr/en/who-are-we. A review of its second report on sustainability (2011) which bore the headline: ‘We can feed 9 million people in 2050’ has much in common with Michael Hart’s message – but does not look at the issue of ‘effective demand’ for food.