How to avoid a global food crisis

The world faces a major challenge in the coming decades as global food demand is poised for unprecedented growth.

The global population will increase from 7 to 9 billion people by 2050 and may exceed 10 billion by the century's end. Most of this growth will occur in developing countries, especially in urban areas, which will be home to 70 percent of the world's population.

In addition, the economies of today's low- and middle-income countries are expected to grow by more than 5 percent annually - more than three times faster than today's high-income countries.

This combination of income growth and urbanization will drive demand for diets that are more varied and more energy intensive to produce. Urban, high-income populations want a greater variety of vegetables, fruits, and especially more processed foods and animal products.

Human appetites for basic crops such as grains and pulses may decrease, but demand to grow these crops for animal feedstock will increase many more times. All of these developments will magnify the pressure on the crop land, fossil fuel energy, and water necessary to produce feed and food.

Australian agriculture can and will play a significant role, both as a surplus producer and as a source of innovation and investible capital. But despite Prime Minister Julia Gillard's recent call for Australia to become the food bowl of Asia, the predominantly local nature of food supply chains means the answer is not as simple as simply shipping food from major food surplus economies, such as Australia and the United States, to the deficit regions of Africa and Asia.

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