It is said that by 2050, there are going to be some 9 billion people in the world. This is a number I have heard being cited quite a few times before, and I’ve decided to make it known what the implications of this fascinating estimated number are for our world.
What these numbers really mean is that, in a world where we have barely enough to eat ourselves, and most of our developing countries must see their children stay malnourished, stunted and perpetually hungry, the number of mouths to feed is going to increase. And that is just one part of it. According to IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute), global prices of maize will rise by 131% and that of wheat by 67%. This means that our food bills for staples would probably be higher than those for other traditionally more expensive consumables. Apparently, that’s the less worrisome part of the scenario. The real bone-chiller comes next.
There is a possibility that these food items may not even be there on the market shelves — over the past three decades, occurrence of floods has risen four times, and droughts are occurring more often and lasting longer — take the food crisis in Sahel, Horn of Africa and other places in Africa — I didn’t realize when the petitioners from Mercy Corps and UNICEF started petitioning for food for the harvest in the year 2013 from that for 2012.
Experts say that there are several ways to combat this shift. Since the amount of land we have is not miraculously going to increase in size, we’ll have to strategically squeeze the most from what we have. This means working on climate resistant crops, and promoting organic farming. The former is already a popular R&D item for most global research organizations. The latter has only now become a priority at the G20 Summit, after being rejected by CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) before — leading to large proportioned degradation of land by uneducated farmers across the world, which could have been prevented.
The bad news is that typical crop breakthroughs take anywhere up to 20 years to be implemented, by which time it will obviously be too late to prevent a food scarcity issue of enormous and unimaginable proportions. Also, this option cannot be much relied upon due to the reaction from people over GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) food crops — perhaps even crops that are good for the world will be rejected under misguided political activism. Thus, helping farmers (most of which accounting for most of the world’s produce are smallholders, and also poor and destitute in most cases) achieve scaling of sustainability practices.
There are several practices (ICT based) which aim to educate farmers on how to produce more from managing their lands better while keeping it replete with essential minerals, all across the developing world — the key challenge is to scale this. Agriculture is perhaps the most energy intensive industry, and is also the consumer of 70% of the world’s fresh water. Best practices on how to manage natural resources well while keeping productivity sustainably increasing would be the key challenge. For example, Africa is said to hold a very high potential of food production. If correct agricultural practices were implemented, it could even produce enough to feed the rest of the present world. Why, then, are millions dying, with mothers having to feed their children a stew of leaves from a tree as a meal in 1-3 days? Perhaps the AgResults Initiative launched at the Rio 20 may go a long way in aiding this, designed on a reward-based system, but nothing can be surely predicted until the results from pilot implementation are in.
Another very important pillar to this protective worldwide humanitarian monument is industry co-operation. Producers, retailers, and distributors will need to work cohesively, and in tandem with each other to feed the ever hungrier world, while producing the minimum amount of environmental damage.
Finally, a paradigm that has been talked about very less will also prominently feature as a determining factor in our world hunger status in 2050. It is estimated that two-fifths of the world’s food is wasted all over the world. In India itself, half of the population starves while the other half buys food at inflated prices as most produce lies rotting in government warehouses or sometimes even on the sides of national highways. For the developed world, adding the source of produce being consumed as well as the carbon footprint attached, in addition to the name and price on a menu card would be more apt to being about awareness and change.
Most importantly, a sustained worldwide determination, which would not die down once the hype surrounding Rio 20 dies down, will be instrumental in the world fixing its problems, or else, we’d all be collective victims of our own ostrich-like head-in-the-sand kind passive inaction.