Monday, February 28, 2011

The Economist's Special Report on Feeding the World


  • (T)here will not be big gains in food production from taking in new land, using more irrigation or putting more fertilizer on existing yields. Cutting waste could make a difference, but there are limits. The main gains will have to come in three ways: from narrowing the gap between the worst and best producers; from spreading the so called livestock revolution; and above all from taking advantage of new plant technologies.
  • About a third of the livestock revolution has come about through selecting and breeding the best animals. Another third comes from improved feeding and the remainder from better disease control.
  • GM and after: This will make some difference, but the change likely to generate the biggest yield gains in the food business, perhaps 1.52% a year, is the development of marker assisted breeding in other words, genetic marking and selection in plants, which includes genetically modifying them but also involves a range of other techniques. This is the third and most important source of growth.
  • At the moment the genetic evolution is just beginning. The genomes of most important crops have been sequenced only fairly recently, and that of wheat is only partly done. There are only a handful of genetically modified crops.
  • Food is the world’s secret stabilizer or destabilizer. As George Marshall said in 1947, it is the very basis of all reconstruction; hunger and insecurity are the worst enemies of peace. But there will be winners and losers. And the strain is likely to set off conflicts along the way: over water and land; over policies; between farmers who want higher prices and consumers who don’t; and between countries or groups of countries.
  • Some of the most successful food producers over the past 20 years have been the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
The above are some key points I excerpted from the report. If you want to get yourself caught up on the factors involved in feeding the world today as well as the coming challenges of feeding the world's growing populations up through 2050, this 16-page special report from "The Economist" does a pretty great job, short of overlooking the pesky elephant-in-the-room subject of a competing world for a shrinking oil supply.

The Economist's discussions rely heavily upon ramping up industrial methods throughout the world, even going so far as to predict that the U.S., BRIC, and other nations will continue on their strong production paths while Europe will fall behind due to its intolerance of some of these methods.

The section which discusses providing calories versus nutrition was particularly informative. I read the whole report and strongly recommend it to readers here. [pdf]
Kay McDonald

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