Food systems for human consumption

ID-10034891Over the next 50 or so years the population is predicted to rise to over 9 billion, an addition of 2 billion people to the planet. Understandably this raises concerns as to how the resources of the planet, not least food, will stretch to meet the growing demand. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates food production will need to  increase 70 to 100%  by 2050. In a new paper entitled, Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare, authors Cassidy et al investigated how our current food production systems could be adapted to feed more people.

Increasingly crops grown are being used to feed livestock and as sources of fuel, uses that can divert food away from the human food chain. Some 36% of the calories produced from crops are used for animal feed of which 12% contributes to human diets, and 4% of human calories are used for biofuel production. The latter proportion has increased four-fold between 2000 and 2010 and looks set to rise further. The study asked the question, how many more people could be fed if crops were only grown for human consumption?

Through mapping the extent, productivity and end use of 41 major agricultural crops, which account for over 90% of total calorie production in the world, the authors were able to identify the gaps between human calorie requirements (taken as 2,700 calories per day) and crop production, now and in the future.

The paper reports significant inefficiencies in the food system. If the current crops being grown were used exclusively for human consumption, our food systems could feed an additional 4 billion people. As the authors state, however, changing the allocation of crops in terms of their end use is only one potential solution but one which when combined with efforts to increase crop yields and to reduce food waste could amount to a substantial solution to the world’s food needs.

FAO releases new (conservative) hunger numbers

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in their 2012 State of Food Insecurity report estimate the number of hungry in the world to be 868 million, 852 million of which are in developing countries. This is down from their past estimates of 925 million in 2010 and 1.02 billion in 2009.

The FAO, over the past year, has been in the process of improving its methodology for calculating chronic hunger and reviewing its data sources to reflect a more multidimensional view of food insecurity. Such revisions were called for by the Committee on World Food Security in 2011 and have resulted in this updated figure. Most notably FAO’s calculation of its undernourishment indicator has been adjusted and is thought to have declined more steeply up to 2007 than previous estimates while the actual impact of recent food price spikes on the number of hungry was less than originally thought.

There are reasons, however, why the 868 million should be considered conservative. For example, the calculation of food available for household consumption doesn’t take into account food wasted and while resource-poor households are unlikely to waste precious food, the FAO does recognise that “this effectively makes the FAO Prevalence of Undernutrition estimate a conservative indicator of food insecurity”. [Read more…]