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Food Is Growing More Plentiful, So Why Do People Keep Warning Of Shortages?


For the past century, food has been getting cheaper and more abundant. And yet we often hear warnings about potential food shortages. Some economists say this fear itself can cause problems. NPR’s Dan Charles has the story.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Maybe you’ve heard how hard it might be to produce enough food for a growing world population. For instance, here’s the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization Kip Tom, also a big-time farmer in Indiana, at a panel discussion in 2018.


KIP TOM: We got a growing world and a hungry world. We need to make sure we do our part in helping feed that hungry world.

CATHERINE KLING: That is totally the mantra.

CHARLES: This is Catherine Kling, an economist at Cornell University.

KLING: I bet I’ve been to 50 talks in the last five, 10 years where the beginning is, we have to feed 9 billion people by 2050. This is a crisis situation. The term crisis gets used regularly.

CHARLES: Every once in a while, it really does seem like a crisis – for instance, in 2008. Tom Hertel at Purdue University remembers it well. Demand for corn to make ethanol was booming.

TOM HERTEL: This was right in the thick of the biofuel-driven madness.

CHARLES: Rice and wheat prices were spiking for other reasons.

HERTEL: People were really panicking.

CHARLES: And some economists were saying this is the new normal – food shortages, high prices. But Hertel didn’t believe it. He and his colleagues have a computer model of long-term trends that drive supply and demand for food, and their model predicted plenty of food, lower prices.

HERTEL: So we wrote this paper debunking the new normal, and it was very unpopular. In fact, we weren’t able to publish it.

CHARLES: Not right away, at least. But Hertel turned out to be right. Prices soon came back down. In fact, the long-term trend has been ever more abundant food, declining prices. Now, it’s true. Millions of people in the world are hungry or malnourished. But Hertel and Kling say that’s mainly because they don’t have the money to buy food or because of war and political oppression. So solving that problem means addressing poverty and conflict, not just growing more food. Kling from Cornell’s a little mystified by all the talk about food shortages.

KLING: Part of the explanation may simply be a – it’s a really effective communication device.

CHARLES: Farmers and their lobbyists can talk about how the world needs more food when they fight environmental regulations that might force farmers to pay for polluting streams and rivers.

KLING: Oh, we can’t possibly impose those costs. Farmers will go out of business, and we’ll starve.

CHARLES: Or maybe part of it is there’s always something to worry about that could disrupt the food supply – for instance right now, climate change. Tom Hertel’s been looking at this. He says agriculture could get hammered by climate change after, say, 2050. For the next few decades, though, the trends point toward continuing abundance. Farmers keep finding ways to grow more food on the same amount of land. Population growth is slowing down. In fact, U.S. farmers have been so unhappy about low prices for their corn and soybeans and milk in recent years, they’ve demanded and received billions of dollars in government aid. Hertel says this situation gives governments an opportunity to address something more pressing.

HERTEL: The issue is not, can we produce enough food? It’s, can we produce the food in a way that doesn’t destroy the environment?

CHARLES: Farming consumes so much land and water. Increasing productivity makes it possible to ease that burden on the planet. In Europe, they’re already doing this – paying farmers to turn some crop land back into grasslands or forests or wetlands.

HERTEL: If farmers were paid to do this, this could be a great – a very profitable activity. And it could become an important part of their revenue stream.

CHARLES: It would reduce greenhouse emissions, and it could help farmers cope with the warming climate down the road.

Dan Charles, NPR News.

10 Comments on "Food Is Growing More Plentiful, So Why Do People Keep Warning Of Shortages?"

  1. makati1 on Wed, 5th Aug 2020 7:59 pm 

    There is only enough food because of FF chemicals (fertilizers/insecticides) and still abundant FF energy. If we went back to traditional farming today, the food supply would plunge in many/most countries.

  2. print baby print on Thu, 6th Aug 2020 4:27 pm 

    It is a lie that price of food went down

  3. claes on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 12:13 pm 

    Here in sweden food prices have gone upp quite a bit, but so has the quality of the food. All most every where you get high quality vegetables and meat. No stained or bruised carrots or potatoes. Good tasting cabbage and fresh herbs. I’m allright with that, but the prices are overthe top.
    My general understanding is that the food we get to day is so much better (and cleaner) today than 20 years ago, but then of course there migth be a price to pay.
    Lousy, cheap food is almost impossible to get. Maybe you’ll have to produce it your self.
    The great thing is that as prices rise, the better it pays to grow your own food. Prepping is never wrong

  4. zero juan on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 12:42 pm 

    dishonest piece of shit:

    claes said But Dooma, then it makes sense to produce less but…

    claes said Here in sweden food prices have gone upp quite a b…

    i find it vary interesting that supreme goats refuse to prosecute DROPOUT-19 for fraudulent admission to club SCIENCE-19 where he wouldnt hesistate to prosecute and put people in jail for college admission scandals said supreme goat has multiple PhDs and flew planes to…

    REAL Green said “It’s only low IQ luantics that make up wurds like…

    Davy said It’s only low IQ luantics that make up wurds like…

    Davy said “Being a repug and being a pig are often the same…

  5. More lunacy from piece of shit Davy the dishonest mentally ill retard on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 3:17 pm 

    zero juan on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 12:42 pm

  6. zero juan on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 3:22 pm 

    The asshole is being dishonest on the moderated side too:

    China is finished… This is the End of China
    by bochen777, August 8, 2020 2:09 pm

    America’s evil plan to nuke China as the final solution to by bochen777, August 8, 2020 2:06 pm

  7. More lunacy from asshole Davy the dishonest mentally ill retard on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 3:28 pm 

    zero juan on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 3:22 pm

  8. the board on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 4:56 pm 

    Juanita PPee, welcome to hell asshole ii|ii

    You will be taken down and your stupid sock shit dismembered.

  9. REAL Green Hypocrite on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 5:51 pm 

    Dear DavySkym:

    Shut-up you nasty fuck.

  10. More stupid sock shit from Davy the bored luantic on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 5:58 pm 

    zero juan on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 12:42 pm

    zero juan on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 3:22 pm

    the board on Sat, 8th Aug 2020 4:56 pm

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