World food output must rise 70 percent by 2050: FAO

Wed Sep 23, 2009 6:28am EDT

By Svetlana Kovalyova

MILAN (Reuters) – The world will have to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people and as incomes rise, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said Wednesday.

Global cereals demand for food and animal feed is expected to rise to 3 billion tonnes by 2050 and more demand may come from the biofuels industry, the FAO said in a statement.

Annual cereals output would have to grow by almost one billion tonnes from about 2.1 billion tonnes at present to meet the projected food and feed demand by 2050, the agency said.

Meat output should increase by more than 200 million tonnes to reach 470 million tonnes in 2050, the Rome-based FAO said.

“FAO is cautiously optimistic about the world’s potential to feed itself by 2050,” said FAO’s Assistant Director-General Hafez Ghanem. But he added that climate change and biofuels demand would be the main challenges for world agriculture.

The world will need to increase investments in agriculture and also boost investments to improve access to food, “otherwise some 370 million people could still be hungry in 2050, almost 5 percent of the global population,” the FAO said.

The number of hungry people will pass 1 billion this year, but food aid is at a 20-year low, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) said last week.

The potential to raise crop yields to feed a growing world population seems to be considerable and fears that yields are reaching a plateau “do not seem warranted, except in a very few special instances,” the FAO said.

LAND AND WATER ISSUES

About 90 percent of the crop output growth is expected to come partly from higher yields, but arable land will have to expand by around 120 million hectares in developing countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, the FAO said.

Arable land in use in developed countries is expected to fall by some 50 million hectares, but that could be changed by the demand for biofuels, the agency said.

Sufficient land resources are still available to feed the future world population, but much of the potential land is suitable for growing only a few crops, not necessarily the crops with highest demand, the FAO said.

Massive investments would be required to bring the land not yet in use into production because much of it suffers from chemical and physical constraints, endemic diseases and lack of infrastructure, it said.

Global fresh water resources are sufficient but they are unevenly distributed with water scarcity reaching alarming levels in an increasing number of areas, particularly in north Africa and south Asia, the agency said.

Water use for irrigated agriculture is projected to grow at a slower pace due to reduced demand and improved water use efficiency, but will still rise by about 11 percent by 2050.

[original]

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