Will We Have Enough Food in 2050?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Oct 15, 2011    •    766 Views

The world is getting richer. And richer people eat more meat. And the animals they eat consume more food. Also, everyday, the world has more people.

The bottom line? According to a study from Nature, we have to double the world’s food supply by 2050.

The good news is that the study’s authors have 5 suggestions for increasing the world’s food supply. The bad news is that they appear not to have taken economics.

First, the suggestions:

  1. Stop the spread of agriculture. For example, we should not replace forests with farms.
  2. Increase the yield of “underperforming” acreage. Comparing Africa to Illinois, the wheat yield is 1 to 6.
  3. Enhance “cropping efficiency.” Fertilizer and water might be used more efficiently.
  4. Change what we eat. If we eat less meat then we have fewer animals to feed.
  5. Diminish waste. Rich countries throw away a lot. In poor countries food spoils.

According to NPR, at a recent presentation, one of the study’s authors was asked, “What about economics?” If economic incentives created our plight, then don’t we need new incentives? What, for example, will stop newly affluent consumers in China from eating more meat?

Here is a past econlife post on feeding the world.

The Economic Lesson
Perhaps one of the first environmentalists, Reverend Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) told us in 1798 that population grows geometrically while resource production expands arithmetically. Consequently, resource prices will rise and supply will become increasingly inadequate.

An Economic Question: For each food supply solution listed above, what incentive would you suggest?

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