Voices 06/04/2009

Will there be food for everyone?

A recent WHO report indicated that world population will reach 9 billion in 2050. Most of the population (7.9 billion) will be in developing countries, while the population of richer countries will remain practically unchanged (1.23-1.28 billion). This growth will increase the demand for water by 64 billion cubic metres per year. By 2030, almost half the world population will be deprived of water. Africa and the Middle East are already at the limit of their water resources.

The scenario is also worrying because it raises the question of whether the world will be able to produce enough food for everyone. It is not only a question of distribution of resources: the problem is quantitative. Indeed, in western countries, agriculture is in crisis and is not competitive without public subsidies, which developing countries call unfair competition. However, the costs of production of western agriculture are greater than in emerging countries because of higher hygiene, environmental, social and labour standards as well as taxation.

If western agriculture declines on withdrawal of subsidies, a dangerous situation could occur. Unless enormous areas are cleared of forest, the main potential new areas for agriculture are arid areas in Africa with low fertility. The only model of agriculture suitable for these areas would be extensive, which would be environment-friendly and sustainable, but according to major institutions such as FAO and FMI, may not be able to satisfy the demand for food of a growing world population.

Food resources, like energy resources, cannot be readily multiplied. An extreme neoliberal approach, with the end of coordinated public agricultural policy and economic aid, could provoke enormous swings in food prices, leading to hunger, inequality between rich and poor countries, and increasing geopolitical tensions.

di Alberto Grimelli