In short, the global agricultural productivity gap is a current index of how much food is globally produced today compared to how much will be required to feed all the world’s people in 2050, a little over 30 years from now.
Figure 1: The Global Agricultural Total Factor Productivity (TFP) Gap Index to Year 2050
Analysts forecast the growth in world demand for agricultural products to fall from an average 2.2 percent per year over the past 30 years to an average 1.5 percent per year for the next 30 years. In developing countries, the slowdown will be more dramatic, from 3.7 percent per year to 2 percent per year, partly as a result of China having passed the phase of rapid growth in its demand for food.
While the growth rate of demand is lower than during preceding decades, the projected total demand increase is still significant in absolute terms. Global food shortages are unlikely, but serious distribution problems may occur, creating crises at national and local levels.
What must be done to create more food?
From the perspective of the FAO, action is needed now to ensure that the required 70 percent increase in food production is achieved, and that every human being has access to adequate food. New concerns for effective use of natural resources, energy conservation, global temperature change, the politics of food, food safety, fraud, and waste have all come into view. Technological innovation to increase agricultural and fishing yields is also central. From the FAO, “The future of agriculture and the ability of the world food system to ensure food security for a growing world population are closely tied to improved stewardship of natural resources. Major reforms and investments are needed in all regions to cope with rising scarcity and degradation of land, water and biodiversity and with the added pressures resulting from rising incomes, climate change and energy demands. There is a need to establish the right incentives to harness agriculture’s environmental services to protect watersheds and biodiversity and to ensure food production using sustainable technologies.”
OK, but I’m just a consumer, what can I do in my own life to ensure there is enough good food for my family, for my children and for future generations?
Vote with your dollars! Even individual consumer choices have a powerful impact on incentivizing good actors in the food system. Seafood is a better alternative than meat products in terms of environmental footprint of animal protein that is important in our diets.
When making a seafood selection, buy products from sources that are either managed properly if wild caught, or farmed sustainably for aquaculture. Your two best guides are Marine or Aquaculture Stewardship Council Certification (MSC, ASC) or Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program and its Green, Yellow, Red ratings for seafood. When choosing meat, look for regenerative and sustainable sources and be adventurous with your pallet by trying bison for instance. For vegetable crops, while the Monsanto’s of the world market increased productivity, the long-term impacts on the planet may be worse.
Buy organic. The bulk of the food you consume should also come from local sources with known and traceable provenance, this offsets the staggering ecological footprint of global food trade and promotes a healthy and vibrant economy where you live.
Implementing this easy to follow guidance will make a positive impact on the world’s ability to produce good and quality food for every human.