Purdue researcher: Income to become dominant driver of global food system

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Per capita income is set to eclipse population growth as the dominant driver of change in the global food system, says a Purdue researcher noted for his work on the economic impacts of global trade and environmental policies.

Thomas Hertel said that while population and income will remain the two most influential factors in determining global food demand and cropland expansion, their relative importance will be altered.

"For the first time in human history, income will have a greater influence than population growth on food security," said Hertel, distinguished professor of agricultural economics. "While the global population is estimated to jump from 7 billion people to 9 billion in the next four decades, the rate of population growth rate is slowing. Meanwhile, individual incomes are increasing in many parts of the developing world, and with that growth will come more demand for richer, more nutritional diets."

Hertel is the founder and executive director of the Purdue-based Global Trade Analysis Project, known as GTAP, a network of more than 10,000 researchers and policymakers in 150 countries that aims to improve the quality of global economic analysis.

Hertel spoke at the Research and Scholarship Distinguished Lecture on Monday (Nov. 18) in Fowler Hall on the Purdue campus. He is the recipient of the university's inaugural Research and Scholarship Distinction Award, which recognizes faculty whose recent research and scholarship have made a major impact in disciplines outside of the natural sciences.

Higher incomes coupled with potential increases in the use of cropland for biofuels production would require global crop production to double by 2050, Hertel said. Increasing crop production while maintaining environmental sustainability presents a major challenge. For example, nitrogen fertilizers have boosted crop yields, but nitrogen runoff into natural water systems can take a toll on the health of lakes, rivers and oceans.

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