The world is projected to hold a whopping 9.6 billion people by 2050. Figuring out how to feed all these people—while advancing rural development, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting valuable ecosystems—is one of the greatest challenges of our era.
So what’s causing the global food challenge, and how can the world solve it? Here, courtesy of the World Resources Institute (WRI), is a summary told in 18 graphics.
For more information, check out Creating a Sustainable Food Future: Interim Findings, a report produced by WRI, U.N. Environment Programme, U.N. Development Programme and the World Bank.
First, let’s examine what’s causing the global food crisis.
Feeding an Exploding Population
The world’s population is projected to grow from about 7 billion in 2012 to 9.6 billion people in 2050. More than half of this growth will occur in sub-Saharan Africa, a region where one-quarter of the population is undernourished.
In addition to population growth, the world’s per capita meat and milk consumption also is growing, especially in China and India, and is projected to remain high in the European Union, North America, Brazil and Russia. These foods are more resource-intensive to produce than plant-based diets.
The Food Gap
Taking into account a growing population and shifting diets, the world will need to produce 69 percent more food calories in 2050 than it did in 2006.
It’s Not a Distribution Problem
We can’t just redistribute food to close the food gap. Even if we took all the food produced in 2009 and distributed it evenly among the global population, the world will still need to produce 974 more calories per person per day by 2050.
Agriculture’s Environmental Footprint
But we can’t just produce more food in the same way as today. We must reduce food’s environmental impact. Agriculture contributes nearly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, uses 37 percent of landmass (excluding Antarctica) and accounts for 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawn from rivers, lakes and aquifers.