7B and counting: How to feed the world’s population through 2021

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary-General Angel Gurria and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva. Photo by: Giulio Napolitano / ©FAO

Global demand for food is expected to rise sharply in the next 10 years. To meet such demand requires a significant but sustainable increase in agricultural productivity, according to two leading international organizations.

The latest edition of a joint publication by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization predicts potential scenarios for global agriculture through 2021. Chief among these is a sharp increase in food demand due to migration, urbanization, changing diets, higher incomes and population growth.

But agricultural resources, especially arable land, are likely to shrink over the same time period. That’s why OECD and FAO are stressing the importance of increasing agricultural productivity in a sustainable manner.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, in his speech at the launch of the joint report, proposed a number of ways on how this can be achieved:

  • Promote green growth in agriculture and giving incentives to encourage sound agronomic practices such as drip irrigation.

  • Create a technical, commercial and regulatory environment that promotes farm-level agronomic practices.

  • Encourage agricultural innovation.

  • Tackle wastage.

  • Close the gender gap in developing countries’ agriculture sector.

  • Support the development of infrastructure in the developing world.

Aside from the sharp increase in global food demand, the OECD-FAO report predicts food prices will remain high through 2021 because of higher energy prices. Further, it notes that the bulk of vegetables, rice, oil, sugar, poultry, beef, fist products and oil seed exports will come from developing and emerging countries, especially Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil and Ukraine.

A separate report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, meanwhile, finds being a landlocked country does not mean having greater food insecurity. The report suggests governments should focus on improving access to and finding more sources of financing for farmers, safety net programs, and nutritional intake to boost food security.

The report also provides a ranking of countries based on their levels of food security. Not surprisingly, Western nations are at the top of the index, with the United States, Denmark and France the three most food-secure countries in the world. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are ranked most food insecure, with Burundi, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo occupying the bottom three spots.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.