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The world could run out of food two decades earlier than thought

The world could run out of food two decades earlier than thought thumbnail

By 2027 the world could be facing a 214 trillion calorie deficit, says Sara Menker, founder and chief executive of Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data technology company. In other words, in just a decade, we won’t have enough food to feed the planet.

We’ve long known that we might reach a point where we have more people than the food to sustain them. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.1 billion, and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that at that point, the world would need to produce 70% more food than today to feed all those people. That 2050 deadline is the one usually cited by scientists and organizations like FAO and Oxfam as the year the world will run out of food.

But the problem with this, and most, assessments of food insecurity, Menker says, is that it uses mass and weight, and not nutritional value. “Why do we talk of food in terms of weight?” Menker asked recently at the second TEDGlobal event in Arusha, Tanzania. “Because it’s easy. But what we care about in food is nutritional value. Not all foods are created equal even if they weigh the same.”

She argues that if you look at the nutritional value of current food production instead, global food security is already more tenuous than we think. Further, population and economic growth in China, India, and African countries will exacerbate this trend, as they continue to grow as net importers of food. The year 2023, Menker says, is the crossover point, when we will no longer be able to produce enough food to feed a growing population.

By 2023, the population in China, India, and Africa will combine to make up over half the world’s population. Africa already has to import food, and by 2023, India, which currently doesn’t import food, will have to start. In China, population growth will eventually level off, but overall calorie intake in the country will continue to increase through the early 2020s, Menker says. In recent years, people in China have begun to add more and more meat—and especially red meat—a very high-calorie food to their diets. Menker predicts that more and more people in China will demand this sort of high-calorie diet.

By 2023, even if all the surplus produce from countries in Europe, North and South America was solely exported to China, India, and Africa, it still would not be enough, says Menker. Four years later, Menker predicts, there will be a 214 trillion calorie shortage. Menker compares it to the calories provided by 379 billion Big Mac hamburgers—more than McDonald’s has produced in its entire existence.

Menker, a former commodities trader, and a 2015 Quartz Africa Innovator, started Gro Intelligence to provide individuals, governments, and businesses insights into agriculture, tracking data from weather patterns to pricing dynamics. She has some solutions to avert the oncoming crisis: reform the agricultural industries in Africa and India by changing how farmers farm, how people buy and consume food, decrease food waste, improve infrastructure, and increase farm yields exponentially. But she also emphasized the importance of data to inform and influence this decision-making process.

“For the first time ever, the most critical tool[s] for success in the industry—data and knowledge—[are] becoming cheaper by the day. And very soon, it won’t matter how much money you own, to make optimal decisions and maximize probability of success in reaching your intended goal,” Menker said. “We have the solution. We just need to act on it.”

QZ



45 Comments on "The world could run out of food two decades earlier than thought"

  1. Davy on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 6:34 am 

    “In other words, in just a decade, we won’t have enough food to feed the planet.”
    Yea, if all goes well. What about AGW CC, peak oil dynamics, and economic crisis. Each one if these variables is absolutely important to industrial Ag production of vast mono cultures and global distribution and all are at risk.

    “By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.1 billion, and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that at that point, the world would need to produce 70% more food than today to feed all those people.”
    I doubt population will increase that much because we are at limits now. Producing 70% more food is an absurd idea. On what planet? There is nothing left of this one.

  2. Hello on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 6:38 am 

    why does it need 70% more food to feed maybe 10 or 20% more people?

  3. pointer on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 6:50 am 

    What’s the big deal? The problem will take care of itself. Food becomes a limit on population. The “Limits to Growth” study showed this 40 years ago.

  4. peakyeast on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 7:01 am 

    @Hello: Just a suggestion.. Perhaps because fisheries are at the end of the line – and bush-meat-plants and so forth. Henceforward all foods has to be produced – the complete destruction of the natural food production has been eliminated.

    This is supported by the evidence of continuously accelerated destruction of all other life and pollution seeping through everything.

  5. CAM on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 7:02 am 

    Soil eroding, fish decreasing, pesticides (e.g. Dicamba) destroying both weeds and crops, energy becoming more expensive, climate change affecting the growth of produce and on and on!

    What’s there to worry about!

  6. Makati1 on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 7:20 am 

    Hello, these are scare articles, usually to sell something or some plan. Your math is correct, but you are not supposed to think for yourself. A 20% population growth should mean a 20% growth in food needed, not 3 times that.

  7. Hello on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 7:45 am 

    Now hellllooooo Mak. Is that the first time we ever agree? *BIG SMILE*

  8. Hello on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 7:47 am 

    But to be fair peakyeast has a point, too. I just wish they would explain their calculation instead of just throwing out numbers.

  9. Davy on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 7:50 am 

    makat, put your glasses on and read the comment again. The point is ecological destruction and the increased sophistication of Asians to eat higher value foods means a larger increase in food production is needed. This spells big problems for Asian growth. Maybe that is why you are always discounting food and population issues.

  10. Makati1 on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 7:58 am 

    Hello, miracles do happen! ^_^ Yes, it is a bit vague. Perhaps intentionally?

  11. Jef on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 8:18 am 

    Don’t worry I’m sure Clogged will be along soon to explain how magic WILL happen and everything will work out fine.

  12. Sissyfuss on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 8:48 am 

    That strange cackling you hear is Malthus laughing from his grave.

  13. Cloggie on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 9:29 am 

    By 2027 the world could be facing a 214 trillion calorie deficit, says Sara Menker, founder and chief executive of Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data technology company. In other words, in just a decade, we won’t have enough food to feed the planet.

    It is not “the world” or “the planet” or “we” that has a problem, but it is mostly Sara Menker’s (where did she pick up that German name?) Africa, that has a gigantic problem, entirely caused by itself, namely the irresistible urge to reproduce and inability (stupidity) to at least pick up relatively simple agricultural methods (forget about microprocessors, cars, power stations, satellites).

    https://static-secure.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Environment/Pix/pictures/2012/10/10/1349863827642/Map—world-food-security-001.gif

    It is really your problem, mrs Menker.

    Solution, pushing our exceptionalist friend America aside and Eurasia “going in” again (this time with Russia and China) and seek some form of colonization lite. The Africans are too incompetent to keep themselves alive, let alone restrain their birthrates. It must be imposed.

  14. forbin on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 9:40 am 

    She has some solutions to avert the oncoming crisis: reform the agricultural industries in Africa

    like Zimbabwe did?

    and

    Menker said. “We have the solution. We just need to act on it.”

    yes , it called a condom. and it aint enough

    still valid points for the rest of you guys

    Forbin

    PS : a report back said there would be 4 billion Africans , Nigerians I think . how to you engineer the support structures for that ?

  15. Dredd on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 9:48 am 

    “The world could run out of food”

    The damaged climate system won’t help with that (The Damaged Global Climate System – 7).

  16. Cloggie on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 9:50 am 

    The damaged climate system won’t help with that

    Are you sure?

    https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth

  17. penury on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 10:22 am 

    What happened to the solution offered a few years ago? Soylent Green is coming, aall problems solved (for the few)

  18. Apneaman on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 11:20 am 

    Clog, what’s so good about global greening? Oh right it is acting as a positive feedback loop by making it warm further and faster. There is a reason most plants are green you shit stain. Absorbs more energy. Sorry to ruin your well worn denier meme with 3rd grade chemistry and physics. Since you are as guilty as one can be then why stop now with the deceiving? What a honorless, shameless piece of shit you are.

  19. GregT on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 11:24 am 

    “Are you sure?”

    Climate myths: Higher CO2 levels will boost plant growth and food production

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11655-climate-myths-higher-co2-levels-will-boost-plant-growth-and-food-production/

  20. Cloggie on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 11:37 am 

    https://industrie.airliquide-benelux.com/belgie-nederland/creeren-van-de-juiste-condities-bij-omgevingstemperatuur/zuivere-cosub2-sub-dosering-glastuinbouw

    Why do you think that Holland is the second food-exporter in the world (in money terms)?

    Greenhouses + CO2.

  21. Cloggie on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 11:47 am 

    Climate myths: Higher CO2 levels will boost plant growth and food production

    Stark title, but if you read the article…

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11655-climate-myths-higher-co2-levels-will-boost-plant-growth-and-food-production/

    CO2 is the source of the carbon that plants turn into organic compounds, and it is well established that higher CO2 levels can have a fertilising effect on many plants, boosting growth by as much as a third…. Where water is a limiting factor, all plants could benefit. Plants lose water through the pores in leaves that let CO2 enter. Higher CO2 levels mean they do not need to open these pores as much, reducing water loss…. even if plant growth does rise overall… Predicting the world’s overall changes in food production in response to elevated CO2 is virtually impossible.

  22. GregT on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 11:47 am 

    “Greenhouses + CO2.”

    Now you’re just being downright silly Cloggie. You, of all people, should know better.

  23. GregT on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 11:54 am 

    “As for food crops, the factors are more complex. The crops most widely used in the world for food in many cases depend on particular combinations of soil type, climate, moisture, weather patterns and the infrastructure of equipment, experience and distribution systems.”

    The same with greenhouses. There are far more parameters than only CO2 to take into consideration. Temperature and irrigation being two of the bigger ones, both of which are already being adversely affected by Climate Change.

  24. dissident on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 12:17 pm 

    Africa’s problem will be Europe’s problem. If the EU can’t control its borders now, then think of what will happen when the migrants are do-or-die desperate.

  25. Cloggie on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 12:32 pm 

    Africa’s problem will be Europe’s problem. If the EU can’t control its borders now, then think of what will happen when the migrants are do-or-die desperate.

    They can very well control their borders if there is a will. Meanwhile almost nobody makes it anymore to Italy, thanks to an Italian black op:

    http://tinyurl.com/y78h74w4

  26. Cloggie on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 12:36 pm 

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/08/global-greening-has-slowed-rise-of-co2-in-the-atmosphere-study-finds

    “Global ‘greening’ has slowed rise of CO2 in the atmosphere, study finds”

    More plants have been growing due to higher CO2 levels in the air and warming temperatures that cut the CO2 emitted by plants via respiration. The effects led the proportion of annual carbon emissions remaining in the air to fall from about 50% to 40% in the last decade.

    On a different note, candy for the techies:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/daimler-invests-e25m-in-volocopter-air-taxi/

  27. GregT on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 12:38 pm 

    “Africa’s problem will be Europe’s problem.”

    Payback is a bitch.

  28. GregT on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 12:41 pm 

    “On a different note, candy for the techies:”

    Try not to swallow too much of that candy, it’ll make you sick.

  29. JJHMAN on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 1:32 pm 

    The last few paragraphs from the NASA article”

    While rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the air can be beneficial for plants, it is also the chief culprit of climate change. The gas, which traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere, has been increasing since the industrial age due to the burning of oil, gas, coal and wood for energy and is continuing to reach concentrations not seen in at least 500,000 years. The impacts of climate change include global warming, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and sea ice as well as more severe weather events.

    The beneficial impacts of carbon dioxide on plants may also be limited, said co-author Dr. Philippe Ciais, associate director of the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences, Gif-suv-Yvette, France. “Studies have shown that plants acclimatize, or adjust, to rising carbon dioxide concentration and the fertilization effect diminishes over time.”

  30. TommyWantsHisMommy on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 2:24 pm 

    It would seem to my old eyes that a lot of people seem to be preparing by fattening up now.

  31. Cloggie on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 2:49 pm 

    Payback is a bitch.

    What do you mean with “payback”?

    We lifted these stone age cannibals a few notches on the evolutionary ladder to the tune that we now need to take them serious and take care not to become overrun by them.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3P9a-9p4lo

  32. Apneaman on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 2:55 pm 

    clog, plants need water too, but if you dump trillions of gallons on them like what just happened to Houston, they fucking drown.

    If 1 is good then 1000 must be better. As with all chemicals, it’s the dose that counts. It’s the difference between beneficial and deadly. That’s Jr high school chemistry.

    There is sodium hydroxide in your toothpaste and many other products you come into contact with. It’s also the main ingredient in Drano, so why don’t you pound back a can and prove how more of anything is better by default?

    High CO2 Makes Crops Less Nutritious

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140507-crops-nutrition-climate-change-carbon-dioxide-science/

    Keep up the bad work clog and take pride in your denier nihilism. Y’all have helped assure that the humans will not make it out of this century. Human extinction before 2100. But first you get to watch industrial civilization continue to get smashed to shit. Know that you denier fucks assured that maximum amount of suffering is taking place and the biggest share of that is on you. Take a good long look at the picture and video of Houston and all the victims who were left completely unprepared and unprotected because of the tireless efforts of denier scum fucks like you.

  33. Cloggie on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 2:59 pm 

    Greening Europe over the last 100 years:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/12/04/watch-how-europe-is-greener-now-than-100-years-ago/?utm_term=.98517dd984e6

    Know that you denier fucks assured that maximum amount of suffering is taking place and the biggest share of that is on you.

    I think we should begin to execute oil refinery designers, folks like you.

  34. GregT on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 3:13 pm 

    “We lifted these stone age cannibals a few notches on the evolutionary ladder to the tune that we now need to take them serious and take care not to become overrun by them.”

    If you hadn’t of lifted those stone aged cannibals up a few notches, there wouldn’t be so many of them to overrun you. Too late.

  35. onlooker on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 3:17 pm 

    Heat intolerance overrides benefits of uptake of CO2 by plants. As for the wider point in this article. Oh yes the four horsemen are galloping as we speak.

  36. onlooker on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 3:28 pm 

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/29/world/africa/africa-climate-change-kenya-land-disputes.html

    Loss of Fertile Land fuels looming crisis in Africa. Tell me how can many of these people survive much longer?

  37. onlooker on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 3:34 pm 

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans-annotated.html
    The Uninhabitable Earth. What a novel and outrageous concept. Surely the planet will always be friendly to humanity. Think again rapacious apes. Oh by the way it has become in a short span of time the most widely read article in New Yorker magazine history.

  38. Anonymouse1 on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 4:05 pm 

    Maybe the 70% growth to feed 10 or 20% more, is because amerikans throw and or waste so much perfectly good food, that a massive buffer is required just to keep up. I mean, off all activities our ‘modern’ industrial society is engaged in, its hard to find a sector as wasteful of resources and energy as the industrial food. Besides, waste = profit in the amerikan empire, so that is likely a factor as well…

  39. Makati1 on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 5:16 pm 

    Anon, You are correct on the American food waste, but it is still poor math on the part of the author. The US wastes enough food to feed the entire population of the Philippines. Over 100 million people. Not to mention the 2/3 of Americans who are overweight. There is more than one form of ‘waist’. ^_^

  40. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 5:31 pm 

    If there is no food left,
    They can all live on gummi bears.

    It’s all the kids want to eat anyway.

  41. bobinget on Mon, 4th Sep 2017 2:38 pm 

    Apneaman, what ever he said. I agreed.

    Faced with prospect of what to leave on earth post departure. Decided on large solar array powered
    greenhouses lit w/ millions of LED bulbs to grow massive amounts of non organic food. AKA
    “conventional”.

  42. Apneaman on Mon, 4th Sep 2017 3:19 pm 

    “I think we should begin to execute oil refinery designers, folks like you.”

    Who is we?

    Let me know when your plane will arrive at the Vancouver international airport and I’ll meet you with one hand tied behind my back and let you take your shots clog.

    You don’t pay attention very well. I never once said I designed refineries. I built and did maintenance on a handful of vessels in them and other cancerous pressure vessels in various cancer industries. The designing is for the effeminate men, like you, who would not last one hour doing what I did.

    BTW, you can thank the medieval Muslim scientists for inventing distilling.

  43. Apneaman on Mon, 4th Sep 2017 3:24 pm 

    The Ends of the World is page-turner about mass extinction

    Tale of deep geological time feels like a scientifically-accurate disaster movie.

    “Brannen shows us how past extinction crises were in fact climate crises. Deep time and geology are the keys to comprehend the effects of global warming. Even more so than statistical models and projections, fossils and discontinuities in ancient rock layers tell us a gripping tale of what lies ahead of us. As the author remarked to me: “it’s crazy that most people don’t know anything about the most important events in the history of the planet […] especially given their unsettling relevance to the future.”

    “All extinction episodes, including the dinosaurs’, share one feature or process in common: quick and massive disruptions in the atmosphere’s carbon cycle, usually—but not always—triggered by volcanic activity.”

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/09/the-ends-of-the-world-is-page-turner-about-mass-extinction/

    Yep, another new book and/or article telling you what I have been saying for years.

    Oh lord it’s hard to be humble……

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCsNunGnqE0

  44. Apneaman on Mon, 4th Sep 2017 3:35 pm 

    And another one of my long running recommendations gets adopted, but only after disaster.

    Fort McMurray prepares for the next wildfire by strengthening its defences
    Municipality plans to clear 30-metre-wide area of vegetation and trees away from homes

    “University of Alberta professor Mike Flannigan said firebreaks will significantly reduce the risk of another wildfire devastating the city. But firebreaks alone won’t prevent another disaster.

    Flannigan, director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science, said there is no way to eliminate the risk of fires in the boreal forest.

    Creating firebreaks and removing dead trees that fuel fires gives provincial and municipal crews a fighting chance to prevent the spread of wildfires.”

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/fort-mcmurray-wildfire-fire-smart-fire-guard-1.4272973

    ‘a fighting chance’? Ya for a bit. Hey if you like your disasters then do nothing. Ask nothing of your elected official except more denial and fake promises of bringing back a world that is impossible to bring back. Perhaps it’s better to remain in denial like Houston and get it over with sooner? Why stretch the kids anxiety and suffering out? Better to pretend it’s a hoax and get blind sided yet again.

  45. Makati1 on Mon, 4th Sep 2017 6:14 pm 

    Ap, TPTB are pushing denial as their weapon of choice in all areas. Climate change, financial collapse and the end of the West.

    The ‘paid for’ studies/articles/videos that try to discredit the facts, are becoming more and more numerous. There are so many ‘red herrings’ that the news is beginning to smell like a fish market.

    The 2X4 of reality is going to be painful.

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