Population growth and changing diets – what do they mean for the future?

Food is a necessity and a basic need of human life. Yet, 925 million people do not have enough food to eat, leaving one in seven people hungry. And at the same time, the global population is growing rapidly, predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050. The FAO has said that 70% more food will be needed by 2050 to meet this growing demand – the challenge we face is achieving this.

Earlier this month, the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) programme discussed a recent article on Global changes in diets and the consequences for land requirements for food by Thomas Kastner and co-authors.

By calculating and showing how our total calorie consumption is divided among different types of food, and how much land is required for each of these food types, the article paints a fascinating portrait of global nutritional diversity. A decomposition approach was used to quantify the contributions of the main drivers of cropland requirements for food: population changes, agricultural technology, and diet. Results found that from 1961 to 2007, in most regions, yield increases were offset by a combination of population growth and dietary change. However, developing countries followed a different pattern, showing socioeconomic development, population growth decreases and, at the same time, richer diets.

Interesting insights show that between 1963 and 1984, expansions in land requirements for crops were largely associated with population growth, and for many regions were compensated by land savings due to improving technology. After 1984 a greater proportion of agricultural expansion was associated with changes in diets, with technology being less successful.

Looking to the future, the authors warn that feeding five billion people at the levels of consumption found in North America, Oceania and Europe will require a doubling of current cropland, and further that technology-based land savings are usually based on much higher inputs of fossil fuels, fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation infrastructure. The authors move on to say that unless there are severe curbs on high-end food consumption, food–related emissions will rise, through a combination of land conversion and more input-intensive farming.

It is crucial that appropriate national food and nutrition strategies are implemented to help meet the growing demand for food. These strategies must highlight the importance of both productivity and diet diversity in ensuring proper food and nutrition security and receive wide participation that includes farmers, the private sector, and other key stakeholders.

Read Farming First’s Nutrition Security Policy Paper for more information or explore Farming First’s page on Nutrition.

2 responses to “Population growth and changing diets – what do they mean for the future?

  1. Pingback: Can we overcome the perfect storm of demand, scarcity and change? Yes, we can… but only if we change the way we manage global systems | Water, Land & Ecosystems

  2. Pingback: Can we overcome the perfect storm of demand, scarcity and change? Yes, we can… but only if we change the way we manage global systems / Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog

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