By Nathan Stevens
January 21, 2011
At a recent policy conference on the future of food and farming, Robert Thompson of the University of Illinois painted the big picture for agriculture worldwide over the next 40 years. There are huge factors that are shaping the future of food that have created an array of challenges and opportunities for agriculture.
The most obvious challenge will be that of ensuring that nine billion people are able to get the food they require to live. Compounding the need to feed these people is the hope of attaining real poverty reduction around the world. The side effect of achieving real poverty reduction is that diets change to include more meat and more fruits and vegetables. The net effect of more people with improved diets is estimated to be a 100 per cent increase in the demand for food.
Next, there is the factor of available land to convert to agricultural uses. There is realistically only a 12 per cent increase in agricultural land available in the world that can be adopted for agricultural uses, provided that the world’s forests will not be converted in a substantial way.
Thompson argued that climate change and its impact on temperature and precipitation patterns will impact agriculture in ways that cannot be fully anticipated. The fear is that extreme weather events will occur with increasing frequency. As a result, more research into crops that are more resistant to weather extremes needs to become a focus in the future.
Finally, competition for water resources will become increasingly serious as urbanization continues in the developing world. For the first time in history, more people around the world live in an urban setting than in a rural one. As this trend continues, finding ways for all of society to be more efficient with water will be essential.
The end result of all these factors is the need for farmers the world over to double food production in the next 40 years. This monumental goal needs to be achieved while adding relatively few acres to production, handling more adverse weather, and using less water to grow the additional food. Ensuring that the policy agenda is set to tackle this problem will be a key task in the years ahead.Nathan Stevens is the Research and Policy Advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. It can be heard weekly on CKNX Wingham and CFCO Chatham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. The CFFO is supported by 4,200 farm families across Ontario