| Have you heard that we need to double food production by 2050 in order to feed a population of 9 billion people? I have. I've heard it ad nauseum. Today, I was reading through some transcripts from the 2009 Borlaug Dialogues, and nearly every speaker noted that we need to double food production by 2050 but no one cited their source. It was just a given, something everyone already knew.
I started Googling and ended up emailing colleagues for the original source of this figure. And, to the best of my knowledge (I haven't given up yet), THERE ISN'T ONE. That's right. No source. There IS a claim by Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the FAO from January 2009 - but no source. Where did he get his information? What were the assumptions used to calculate it?
UPDATE: I've done some more checking on this. The FAO, the source cited for saying we must double food production, says we need to increase it by 70 percent. Not double.
|Emails began coming back from people far more knowledgeable and experienced in this area than I, first pointing me to a 2006 FAO report that says a lot of things, but doesn't say we need to double food production. The same email contained a link to an article about the UK's Soil Association calling out the "double food production" claim as B.S. From their own report, they found that the supposed source (the FAO report) never says "double food production," and its numbers actually call for increasing food production by 70 percent by 2050.
The number 70 percent is calculated with a number of assumptions, such as a doubling of meat and dairy consumption worldwide. And in case you don't want to take the Soil Association's word for it, you can have that 70 percent figure attributed to the UN from the Global Harvest Initiative (a.k.a. ADM, Monsanto, and John Deere) as well.
In a separate study done by the Global Harvest Initiative, they project that food production must increase by 86 percent by 2050. Their number is higher than the UN number, but it still isn't "double."
Also notable are the Soil Association's critiques of the UN's methodology in determining the needed increase in food production:
These projections are based on the following assumptions:
* Increases in global population and economic growth.
* Increased per capita consumption of calories in developing countries.
* Continuing growing imports of food by developing countries.
* Structural change in diets of people in the developing world (nutrition transition) to include more meat and dairy products.
There are four key problems with these projections:
* Our diet in the developed world is causing serious disease and obesity problems and these are now starting to increase in the developing world.
* The data used to measure food security focuses attention on the level of agricultural production without considering access to food, distribution, and affordability which are all important in ensuring that people do not go hungry.
* The projections assume that the developing world continues to import growing quantities of staple food stuffs - in fact, increasing local production of staple foods is vital in ensuring food security.
* According to these scientists, meeting these projected food demand targets will not solve food insecurity anyway. diet-related ill-health, including heart disease, some cancers and Type 2 diabetes.
If this is in fact the truth - if there is NO basis to support needing to double food production by 2050 - then I find it absolutely incredible the extent to which world leaders and other powerful people continue to repeat it without questioning it.