How We Can Easily Feed a Planet of 11 Billion

 

shutterstock_252173746-e1423860273200How big will global population be in 2100? Some 10 or 11 billion, according to the UN. But some demographers think that estimate is way too high. Back in 2013, I blogged about a projection from Sanjeev Sanyal of Deutsche Bank. His calculations find the world’s overall fertility rate falling to the replacement rate in 2025, although global population will continue to expand for a few decades thanks in part to rising longevity: “We forecast that world population will peak around 2055 at 8.7 billion and will then decline to 8.0 billion by 2100. In other words, our forecasts suggest that world population will peak at least half a century sooner than the UN expects and that by 2100, and that level will be 2.8 billion below the UN’s prediction.”

But what if the UN is right? How can we feed all those people? It actually wouldn’t be that difficult, according to the World Bank’s Heinz-Wilhelm Strubenhoff in a piece over at Brookings. He runs through the math, but I wanted to highlight two things. First, plenty of existing farmland isn’t being used efficiently: “Farmers in the Netherlands produce 8.6 tons of cereals per hectare, Ukrainian farmers produce 4 tons per hectare, and yields in Nigeria are stagnant at 1.5 tons per hectare.” Second, we waste so much: “The average European is wasting 179 kg of food in the value chain from the farm gate to the lunch or dinner table. This is almost the annual consumption of a poor person mainly living on cereals (200 kg).”

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There are 9 comments.

  1. Brian Clendinen Member

    James Pethokoukis:The average European is wasting 179 kg of food in the value chain from the farm gate to the lunch or dinner table. This is almost the annual consumption of a poor person mainly living on cereals (200 kg).”

    One reason so much food gets wasted if food safety requirements. So unless you want a lot more people to die and being hospitalized from food poisoning, it is impractical to assume that most of that waste can be eliminated. Secondly, I am not sure how they calculate yield loss on processed food if that is considered wasted food. Machine cutting or pealing is more inefficient and one has more waste than hand processed food. So if inedible food is in the stated calculation it is way over stated. On the other hand there technology will improve and that will reduce the amount of yield loss of usable product.

    Overall wasted food has little room for improvement in rich nations and should not be considered in any analysis. The only thing that could have a material impact on that is an increase in the % of ones income that will go to raw food in first world nations. Simple economics of spending more labor to save on raw food cost.

    Lastly, all this assumes static food yields. There is a huge revolution in agriculture science right now at improving out-pet on poor land. So it is increasing supply not reducing waste is how we can meet growing populations.

    • #1
    • April 30, 2015, at 12:26 PM PDT
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  2. Spin Inactive

    My kids waste that much food in a day, never mind a year.

    • #2
    • April 30, 2015, at 12:29 PM PDT
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  3. captainpower Inactive

    I heard a great interview with Penn Jillette and Norman Borlaug (a name everyone should know, but few do). Norman Borlaug, “the man who fed the world” had an interesting response to the malthusian claims in the 1970’s (“the population bomb”) about how we were going to run out of resources to feed people.

    His answer was that, given the agricultural technology of the time, that projection was accurate.

    Thankfully, he and others developed innovative techniques and and made the projection fail to come true. (This is similar in my mind to the “peak oil” problem. Give it another 100-200 years and we will all be on nuclear – if we aren’t all nuked that is.)

    That’s the wonderful thing about humans. They take problems that seem inevitable and find ways to solve the problem (or at least improve upon it).

    http://reason.com/blog/2006/08/11/penn-jillettes-greatest-hero-o
    http://wayback.archive.org/web/20140520034135/http://acsh.org/2006/08/penn-jillette-interviews-dr-norman-borlaug-the-man-who-fed-the-world/

    http://wayback.archive.org/web/20140520034135/http://podcast.penn.freefm.com/penn/25352.mp3

    • #3
    • April 30, 2015, at 1:15 PM PDT
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  4. Ward Robles Member

    How much acreage will we devote to biofuels? How much meat, dairy and other land-intensive foods will we consume relative to plants? Will we want to be fat and happy or rich and thin? Will more Norman Borlaugs come along, leading to factory farms spewing tasty food out on giant conveyor belts or Star Trek food replicators? Personally, when I look back on the last 85 years and the progress made, I find it hard to contain my optimism for the next 85. Thinking about this post led me to an another interesting article indicating that we have already reached “peak farmland” and that fewer acres will bee needed to feed the world in 2100. http://phe.rockefeller.edu/docs/PDR.SUPP%20Final%20Paper.pdf

    • #4
    • April 30, 2015, at 1:34 PM PDT
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  5. CuriousKevmo Member

    Just read up on Mr. Borlaug — he is my new hero. Thanks Captain, you made my day!

    • #5
    • April 30, 2015, at 8:35 PM PDT
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  6. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Brian Clendinen:

    James Pethokoukis:The average European is wasting 179 kg of food in the value chain from the farm gate to the lunch or dinner table. This is almost the annual consumption of a poor person mainly living on cereals (200 kg).”

    One reason so much food gets wasted if food safety requirements. So unless you want a lot more people to die and being hospitalized from food poisoning, it is impractical to assume that most of that waste can be eliminated.

    You’re assuming that all the requirements are useful. When the cost of scrapping your raw materials is cheaper than the cost of an FDA audit, we’re always going to be erring on the side of avoiding the audit. Even if that doesn’t actually make a difference in terms of safety. I’ve also known food manufacturers/distributors to scrap batches simply because the texture was off; it’s cheaper to lose the raw materials than to lose business by selling your customers a less appealing product.

    In both those cases, assuming economics with several billion more people on the world, those incentives might change.

    • #6
    • April 30, 2015, at 11:17 PM PDT
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  7. Tuck Inactive

    Trading starvation for diabetes is probably a trade most of us would make in the short term, but that epidemic of diabetes is what is bankrupting our healthcare system.

    (Norman Borlaug was simultaneously a great man and a terrific example of unintended consequences. The diabetes epidemic sweeping the world is the direct result of his work.)

    So the claim that we can feed 11 billion with grains and have then be healthy is contradicted by what we know about human nutritional requirements.

    We’ll have 11 billion sick, malnourished people.

    Not a great plan.

    • #7
    • May 1, 2015, at 7:35 AM PDT
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  8. captainpower Inactive

    Tuck:Trading starvation for diabetes is probably a trade most of us would make in the short term, but that epidemic of diabetes is what is bankrupting our healthcare system.

    Can you elaborate?

    Given the recent overturn of 50 years of dietary recommendations about salt and saturated/unsaturated fats, I am skeptical how much we know.

    video:

    Peter Attia: What if we’re wrong about diabetes?

    April 2013 at TEDMED 2013

    • #8
    • May 1, 2015, at 8:35 AM PDT
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  9. Tuck Inactive

    captainpower:

    Can you elaborate?

    Type II diabetes is pretty clearly caused by consumption of carbohydrates in excess of the body’s ability to process them. There may be other confounders, but if you have type II diabetes and you go on a very low-carb diet, you can normalize your blood glucose, and reverse your symptoms.

    Here’s a Canadian nephrologist (kidney specialist) explaining how he does exactly that with his patients:

    Advising a diabetic to avoid carbohydrates is akin to advising an alcoholic to avoid alcohol.

    Low-carb diets were the default treatment for diabetes prior to the discovery of insulin, and it was demonstrated in the 70s that this works even for Type I diabetics.

    The medical profession has a lot to answer for. They’re the most dangerous profession.

    Peter Attia’s great, btw; I had the opportunity to meet him in Boston a few years ago.

    • #9
    • May 1, 2015, at 9:34 AM PDT
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