Global Food Gap Grows

Group warns food supply won't meet future demand without productivity gains.

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The 2018 Global Agricultural Productivity Index shows food production is not growing fast enough to sustainably feed the world in 2050

The divide is growing between global food demand in the future and the projection on the rate of growth for agricultural production, a new report shows.

The 2018 Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Index, put together by the Global Harvest Initiative, continues to highlight food production is not growing fast enough to sustainably feed the world in 2050.

This is the fifth-straight year the report has shown a wider spread between future food supply and future demand. The report warns that if this trend isn’t reversed, the world may not be able to provide the necessary food, feed, fiber and biofuels for a growing global population.

LOW-INCOME COUNTRIES. The productivity gap for food production is more pronounced in low-income countries, which are not growing food production nearly enough to keep pace with future demand. “Total Factor Productivity” in low-income countries is growing at 0.96% annually, which is down from projected growth over the past two years, the GAP report states. This falls well below the growth rate needed to achieve sustainability goals of doubling food productivity in low-income countries and achieving “zero hunger” by 2050.

To meet the projected demand of 10 billion people in 2050, the GAP report states global agricultural productivity must increase by 1.75% annually. Such growth is needed even as climate scientists warn crop production will decline, especially in tropical environments in coming decades because of higher temperatures and more volatile weather patterns.

CLIMATE CHANGE. The GAP report notes the impact of climate change on both production and food prices, citing 10 different models that suggest “climate change will generate higher prices for agricultural commodities, in general, and particularly for crops. The impact of climate change must be considered to avoid a downward bias in projected supply estimates.”

The GAP report calls the U.S. an “agricultural powerhouse” because of decades of improved efficiency and rising production. But, the report also cites that average U.S. Total Factor Productivity did not grow from 2006 to 2015 as quickly as it had in previous decades. The Total Factor Productivity looks at increases in crop production but also the costs to farmers to produce food, loss and waste in the supply chain, and costs to consumers.

The report comes as USDA cites the U.S. facing record U.S. corn and soybean supplies for the 2018–19 marketing year. The USDA’s October World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates showed corn production at 14.78 billion bushels (bb). While not a record, corn supplies are forecast at a record because of old-crop carryover of 2.1 bb. Soybean supplies in the U.S. are pegged at 5.15 bb based on record production and higher beginning stocks, as well.

PROSPERITY PROBLEM. The GAP report states economy prosperity, coupled with farm production, continues to slip in rural America. Three-quarters of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are in rural America. Farm income has also seen roughly a 52% decline since 2013, the steepest drop since the 1930s.

“As a result, the amount of working capital that (U.S.) farmers have available to maintain, improve and expand their operations is at the lowest level in 10 years,” the GAP report states.

Global hunger, driven by drought and conflicts, rose last year, reaching 821 million people who were considered chronically hungry by the United Nations. As many as 124 million people faced acute malnutrition and starvation.

To achieve needed food-production growth in the coming decades, the Global Harvest Initiative cites more efforts are required to advance research and development investments globally. More research and development is needed to avoid farmers expanding cropland into more environmentally sensitive areas that may not translate into growing more food. “Without these innovations, farmers, particularly in food-deficit countries, will put more fragile land into production to increase output and will experience greater hunger and poverty.”

TRADE AND SCIENCE. Beyond research and development, the GAP report indicates more investment is needed in areas of public policy, such as trade, embracing science and public-private partnerships.

“Innovation and productivity are essential to keeping pace with the quantity and quality of food that consumers are demanding. We all have a role to play in creating a healthier, more sustainable world. The power of robust public research and strong public policy are often overlooked,” says Doyle Karr, biotechnology public policy director, Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont, and chair of the board for the Global Harvest Initiative.

Along with growing food production, society also is placing more demands on agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to better stewardship of soil, water and wildlife, says Margaret Zeigler, executive director of the Global Harvest Initiative. Those sustainability areas are driving more consumer demand for climate-friendly production and supply chains, she explains. The GAP report also highlights some areas where this kind of consumer demand is reshaping the food and agricultural supply chains.

The Global Harvest Initiative is a group set up by John Deere, the Mosaic Co., Smithfield Foods, Monsanto Co. (now part of Bayer AG) and Corteva Agriscience, the ag division of DowDuPont.

The GAP report is released every year at The World Food Prize symposium, in Des Moines.

For More Information:

> 2018 Global Agricultural Productivity Report


Chris Clayton