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Food Security Raises the Obvious: Can We Feed 9.6 Billion by 2050?

zacka, michael, tetra pakWorld Population Day 2013 came and went with little fanfare this year. There were no organized efforts to draw attention to the annual United Nations observance, which underscores population issues. The sole article I saw on the subject matter-of-factly noted that “global population is growing faster than expected” as U.N. demographers revised their projections upwards to 9.6 billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100.

These new numbers are cause for concern, since that’s almost a whole billion more than the 10.1 billion projected for the century’s end in 2011, a mere two years earlier, points outScience Daily. But this year’s U.N. mandated theme for World Population Day focused on the need for reinvigorated contraceptive efforts–and missed the most salient point of the numbers.

Hunger is the most pressing issue we face, especially considering those numbers: one out of every eight people in the world today suffers from chronic undernourishment caused by food scarcity, notes the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO). And many believe this number is likely to increase as rapid population growth taxes limitations on food, water and farmland regionally–and growing development and affluence change our diets.

“More people are eating resource-intensive ‘Western’ diets rich in meat and dairy products,” explains The Feeding of the Nine Billion, a report from the British policy institute Chatham House. And the numbers it cites due to this trend are potentially staggering: “the World Bank projects that by 2030 worldwide demand for food will increase by 50 percent, and for meat by 85 percent.” So crops will be taxed still further to meet the increasing demand for grain to feed animals.

Yet paradoxically, and what many don’t realize, today “the world produces enough food to feed everyone . . . 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase,” notes the FAO. The Chatham House report chalks it up to the Green Revolution, an international effort begun in the mid-20th century to propagate production-increasing agricultural improvements throughout the developing world, and notes that “global aggregate food production has kept pace–an astonishing achievement.”

Yet the fact that so many people are hungry or malnourished today “is the clearest illustration that not everyone has benefitted,” points out Chatham House. Why is food security compromised? It’s a complicated issue, with myriad answers.

The FAO notes poverty, harmful economic systems and conflicts are all principal causes of hunger and food scarcity, and in a Catch-22, “hunger is also a cause of poverty.” And Chatham House points out that one of the significant problems spawned by the Green Revolution is that the benefits of increased food production have not been allocated equitably. Though food exists, almost a billion people go hungry today because they lack access and entitlement to it.

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