Are we living in an era of growing food scarcity? Real food prices are back to what they were in 1975, when the Green Revolution had just begun to spread to the developing world.
According to the UN’s FAO, the world will need to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed an additional 2.3 billion people. To be fair, global population is not growing as fast as it did in the past. In some places such as Japan and Eastern Europe, population is even shrinking. Much of the population growth is in developing countries, especially in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is expected to double to 2.4 billion by 2050. Despite its abundance of arable land, Africa has not benefitted from the Green Revolution. The continent has run food deficits since the 1970s.
Population growth isn’t nearly as great in East and South Asia, about 11% by 2050. The key drivers there are growing middle classes and urbanization, forces that facilitate food demand, create demand for greater food safety and quality, and cause dietary changes in favor of greater meat consumption. Only three developing countries—India, China and Nigeria—together are expected to account for 37% of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2014 and 2050. Consequently, global consumption is shifting to the emerging middle class in the developing world. The Asia Pacific region already accounts for 28% of the global middle class (as of 2009). That share is expected to reach 54% by 2020 and 66% by 2030.
Environmental matters will pose a significant risk to the security of future food supply. Warmer global temperatures are a fact contributing to higher frequencies of extreme weather incidents. The ten warmest years, with the exception of 1998, have occurred since 2000. In 2010, for instance, a heat wave across Europe destroyed one-fifth of Russia’s grain harvest sending global food prices higher.
Water shortages are another critical issue. In terms of impact, water crises are the top global risk according to the World Economic Forum. Global water usage is forecasted to reach unsustainable levels beyond 2030, with agriculture accounting for about 70% of water consumption.
The water situation is grave in China. More than of half of China’s groundwater resources are contaminated. Eighty percent of its major rivers are so degraded that they no longer support fish, according to FAO. Northern China, where much of the country’s wheat and maize are grown, is effectively arid.
To be sure, food security is partly a buzzword. World hunger isn’t on the horizon. Globally land isn’t scarce. The 2000s saw a remarkable growth of agriculture in Latin America, which now rivals North America in food exports. At the same time, a combination of environmental problems, global economic tendencies, and infrastructural deficiencies will limit access to resources such as land and the water critical for sustainable food production.
Tighter global food supplies are becoming a startling reality. How is the international reinsurance industry positioned to meet these future challenges?
Dmitri Titoff is a foreign affairs
analyst. Chang Liu is a Lieutenant
Junior Grade Supply Corps Officer in the United States Navy.
Category: Food security