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The Outlook for Food Security

In the next 100 years, climate change, environmental factors, population growth, political instability, and increasing food prices will increase food insecurity if action is not taken now to solve the hunger crisis.

Climate Change

Climate change is an imminent threat to agriculture. Rising temperatures are expected to shorten growing seasons, increase the occurrence of natural disasters, trigger regional water shortages, and change the pattern of crop diseases (Harrington, 2009). One particular concern is that crops produced near the equator are presently grown at their temperature maximum. Therefore, temperature increases in this region will result in a steep decline in crop yields. If current farming practices are not adapted, climate change is expected to decrease overall yields by 9-11%, increasing global food prices between 25% and 150% and hunger levels by 10-60% (Parry, et. al. 2009). Perhaps more alarmingly, climate change is expected to have the greatest impact in regions where social inequality is the most prevalent. For example, 65% of the increase in hunger due to climate change is projected to occur in Africa (Parry, et. al. 2009).

Environmental Destruction

Land degradation and biodiversity loss are both happening at alarming rates, constraining the amount of food production possible as long as these trends continue.

As of 1995, almost 2 billion hectares of farmland had "moderate to severe" soil degradation due to "soil erosion, loss of nutrients, damage from inappropriate farming practices, and the misuse of agricultural chemicals" (Population Information Program, 1997). Soil degradation decreases yields, and when most severe, can even cause farmland to be put out of production. According to a 1995 FAO estimate, five to seven million hectares of farmland are disappearing each year as land is degraded to the point where it is no longer usable and urban sprawl encroaches on farmland (Population Information Program, 1997). With the current trends of population growth and urbanization, this rate is likely to increase unless farming practices are adapted to be more gentle on farmland.

Biodiversity is also quickly being lost as farming practices trend towards single, high-yield crop varieties. For example, "in India farmers have planted 30,000 different varieties of rice over the past 50 years, with the varieties grown in a region closely matched to its soils, climate and so forth. With the advent of green revolution varieties, this has changed. It is estimated that 75% of all rice fields in India were planted to just 10 varieties in 2005" (Muir, 2008, n. pag.). This trend is alarming, as it causes crops to be more vulnerable to disease. The lack of biodiversity means that if one crop is wiped out due to disaster or disease, the impact on farmers will be much more severe.

Population growth

The UN estimates that the population will grow 47% to 8.9 billion by 2050. Alternative scenarios predict as a growth of as high as 10.6 billion, or as low as 7.4 billion (United Nations, 2004). Using the UN's medium scenario projection, after reaching 8.92 billion in 2050, the population is projected to peak at 9.22 billion by 2075. Following this projection, it will dip slightly to 8.43 billion by 2175. World population growth after 2050, therefore, is expected to be minimal until 2075 and actually decline between 2075 and 2175 (United Nations, 2004).

The majority of the demographic change up to 2050 is projected to occur in less developed regions. Developing regions are expected to experience a 58% growth over 50 years, whereas developed regions are only predicted to have a 2% increase. By 2100, Africa's share of the world population may double from 13.1% to 24.9% (United Nations, 2004). Furthermore, many of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in which hunger rates are the highest are expected to experience the greatest population growth. The population of the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, is expected to increase five fold and exceed 200 million by 2050, while the population of Ethiopia, which was 18 million in 1950, is predicted to surge to 186 million by 2050 (Shapouri and Rosen, 2009). Both of these countries have extremely alarming levels of hunger, according to the Global Hunger Index 2010. The Global Hunger Index scores of Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are respectively 29.8 and 41, with ratings close to 0 signifying low hunger rates (IFPRI, 2010). These countries do not have the resources to support their current populations, and, if their situation remains unchanged, will not be able to raise food supplies to compensate for the large increase in population. If the problem of hunger is not addressed now in these countries, the dire situation will only be amplified with population increase. A country that is unable to provide for its people now, will not be able to supply food for an even larger population, which will consequently result in more hungry people (Shapouri and Rosen, 2009)

Political Instability

In 2008, all fifteen countries with the highest GHI (Global Hunger Index rating) have been consistently defined as non-free or partially free by Freedom House, an organization that "supports the expansion of freedom around the world" (IFPRI, et al., 2008) (Freedom House Inc., 2010). This demonstrates the correlation between war and violent conflict with poverty and hunger (IFPRI, et al, 2008). Countries with the highest GHI ratings have experienced years of political conflict. For instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia each have significantly high GHI indexes and are experiencing wars that have lasted several declines with no clear end in sight (Shapouri and Rosen, 2009). In areas of conflict, combatants often use hunger as a weapon by cutting off food supplies, hijacking food aid, and forcefully starving the opposing population to ensure their submission (Wiesmann, 2006).

Development funds given to alleviate poverty and hunger often are siphoned away by these corrupt governments. Yet paradoxically, the 25 most corrupt countries (the top eighth in corruption) received $9.4 billion in foreign aid in 2002 (Easterly, 2006). If corruption is allowed to go unchecked in the next one hundred years, and the pattern of aid distribution does not change, this aid will continue to be unable to reach those who need it most, and the people of the developing world will continue to suffer.

Economic Inequality

From 2003 to 2008, the prices of wheat and poultry doubled, prices of maize and butter tripled, and the price of rice quadrupled (IFPRI, et al., 2008). During this time period, even as countries poured development aid into meeting the Millennium Development Goals, the number of undernourished increased by 75 million due to the increase in food prices. 41 million of these lived in Asia, while 24 million were in Sub-Saharan Africa (FAO, 2008).

Alarmingly, the trend in increasing food prices is expected to continue. The FAO and OECD predict that over the next ten years wheat and coarse grain prices will experience a 15-40% increase, while vegetable oils are expected to be priced 40% higher than their current cost. The prices of meat products, sugar, and dairy products are expected to also be above the average, with dairy products have the greatest range of increase of 16-45% (OECD and FAO, 2010).

As of 2008, 969 million people live on less than $1 per day, of which 162 million live on less than $.50 per day. Those who live on less than $.50 per day are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, one of the regions most afflicted by hunger (IFPRI, 2008). The extremely poor must spend most, if not all, of their income on food. Any rise in prices will consequently affect the poor the most, disabling them from allocating funds toward their children's education or other such investments that could provide them with an opportunity to escape from poverty. They become imprisoned by the "Poverty Trap," in which "poverty begets poverty" and "hunger begets hunger" (IFPRI, p.21).

According to Caldwell (2008), "in developing countries, where 60 to 80 percent of a family's income is spent on food, every 20 percent increase in food prices will push 100 million more people into the ranks of the poorest of the poor living on less than one dollar a day." Using this estimation and the worst-case scenario predictions of approximately 40% increases in food prices of wheat and coarse grains, vegetable oils, and dairy products, within the next ten years, 200 million more people could be forced into poverty, and potentially into hunger.

Over the next ten years, FAO and OECD (2010) predict that developed nations that belong to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will continue to dominate exports, providing 52% of wheat exports, 59% of coarse grain exports, 80% of pigmeat, and 80% of butter. Although OECD countries are expected to control exports, developing countries are predicted to control 88% of rice exports, 91% of vegetable oils, and 56% of oil seeds (FAO and OECD, 2010). However, the control of wheat exports holds the most significance as wheat is grown on more than 240 million ha, which is larger than any other crop, while the trade of wheat is greater than all other crops combined (Curtis, 2002). Wheat further provides "more nourishment for humans than any other food source" (Curtis, 2002). Developing countries, along with the rest of the world, are therefore heavily dependent upon wheat imports and extremely susceptible to price changes.

These predictions concerning food prices are based on the assumption of normal conditions in the areas of weather, macroeconomic factors, policy, and energy prices (FAO and OECD, 2010). Considering energy prices, the US Energy Information Administration predicts the real price of crude oil will decline slightly from its current levels to $57 per barrel, which is $68 per barrel in nominal dollars (EIA, 2008). Real price adjusts for inflation, whereas nominal dollars refers to the price of the day, which in this case is 2006 US dollars. After 2016, EIA (2008) projects that the prices will begin to increase due to the growth in demand along with higher cost supplies. By 2030, the average real price of crude oil is expected to be approximately $70 per barrel, which equals $113 per barrel in nominal dollars. While there exists alternative predictions with higher or lower crude oil prices for 2030, they all tend to show an increase in crude oil prices between now and 2030 (EIA, 2008). Rising oil prices have a direct impact on farmers, as the higher prices increase the cost of cultivating and fertilizing, as well as the price of transporting crops (IFPRI, et al., 2008). It is therefore imperative the efficiency of these processes is maximized in order to produce the most crops while using the least amount of energy possible.

As demonstrated, numerous factors, including climate change, environmental degradation, population growth, political instability, and food prices, will increase the hunger rate if action is not taken immediately. We must act now before the problem worsens.

Works cited: 

Easterly, W. (2006). The White Man's Burden. New York: Penguin Books.

Harrington, Larry and Peter Hobbs. (2009). Challenge and Threats to Sustainable Food Production. In W. Pond et. al . (Ed.), Adequate Food for All (pp. 235-247). New York: CRC Press.

Wiesmann, Doris. (2006). 2006 Global Hunger Index. Washington DC: IFPRI. Retrieved from

EIA. (2008). Annual Energy Outlook 2008. Retrieved November 28, 2010, from

Muir, Patricia. (2008). "Diminished Crop Diversity." Oregon State University. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Population Information program. (1997). Popluation Reports. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Retrieved from

Curtis, B.C. (2002). Wheat in the World. FAO Plant Production and Protection Series, 30, retrieved from

United Nations. (2004). World Population to 2300. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/ Population Division.

Freedom House Inc. (2010). About Us. Retrieved November 27, 2010, from

Shapouri, Shahla and Stacey Rosen. (2009). World Population and Food Availabilty. In W. Pond, D.L. Brown, & B.L. Nichols (Eds.), Adequate Food for All (pp. 361-378). New York: CRC Press.

FAO. (2008). Briefing Paper: Hunger on the Rise. Retrieved November 22, 2010 from

Caldwell, Jake. (2008) "Food Price Crisis 101" Center for American Progress. Retrieved 27 November 2010 from

OECD and FAO. (2010). Agricultural-Outlook 2010-2019. Retrieved from

Shapouri, Shahla and Stacey Rosen. (2009). World Population and Food Availabilty. In W. Pond, D.L. Brown, & B.L. Nichols (Eds.), Adequate Food for All (pp. 361-378). New York: CRC Press.