Saturday, May 3, 2014

Nourish: Global food shortage by 2050

For today's entry on this month's theme, I return to this blog's original purpose of examining possible causes of civilizational collapse and what can be done to prevent or delay them.  I begin with Texas A&M reporting on April 18, 2014 (updated April 23, 2014) that Food shortages could be most critical world issue by mid-century.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The world is less than 40 years away from a food shortage that will have serious implications for people and governments, according to a top scientist at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“For the first time in human history, food production will be limited on a global scale by the availability of land, water and energy,” said Dr. Fred Davies, senior science adviser for the agency’s bureau of food security. “Food issues could become as politically destabilizing by 2050 as energy issues are today.”
He said the world population will increase 30 percent to 9 billion people by mid-century. That would call for a 70 percent increase in food to meet demand.

“But resource limitations will constrain global food systems,” Davies added. “The increases currently projected for crop production from biotechnology, genetics, agronomics and horticulture will not be sufficient to meet food demand.”
That's the problem.  The next week on April 21, 2014, Texas A&M followed up with a possible solution in President Obama supports biotechnology in letter to Dr. Norman Borlaug’s granddaughter.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama, in a recent letter to Julie Borlaug, granddaughter of the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, “father of the Green Revolution,” showed his strong support for continuing Borlaug’s legacy of using of scientific innovation, especially biotechnology, in the fight against global hunger.

Julie Borlaug is external relations director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. The institute is named after her grandfather, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Congressional Gold Medal recipient, who was also a distinguished professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M. Borlaug passed away in 2009 at the age of 95.

The President’s letter cited Borlaug’s advances in agriculture as a “model of the American spirit of innovation and ingenuity” and stated that his “support of investment in education and continued research in the biotechnology field are inspirational.”

“I am pleased to join in celebrating the life of your grandfather, Dr. Norman Borlaug,” Obama wrote. “With unwavering commitment to feeding the hungry, leaders like your grandfather profoundly changed the way we develop food products that are accessible to the world’s increasing population.”
In case Borlaug's name looks familiar, I wrote about him in Norman Borlag statue in U.S. Capitol.  I should correct the spelling, but the link would remain misspelled.  As I tell my students, his work was responsible for feeding billions of people.  We're going to need another Borlaug to avoid global famine this century.

Just a reminder about biotechnology, despite all the nasty things I write and repeat about Monsanto, I have no problem with biotechnology properly handled.  I just dislike the way that Monsanto uses the legal system to enforce their business model.  Unfortunately, the coming crisis in food will likely strike Monsanto as a great business opportunity.  Sigh.


  1. The nine billion number is repeated without question throughout the media. Is this at all realistic? We can't feed the people we have now. Expecting a linear expansion to nine billion hardly seems a foregone conclusion.

    1. While we don't feed the seven billion plus he have now, theoretically, we could. There is enough overconsumption and waste among the richest billion that it could be directed to the poorest billion and they could eat adequately, if not well. As for the nine billion, that's the middle projection of the U.N. forecast. The low projection is for eight billion. I think we could just barely feed that many.