Several sources indicate that there is currently enough food in the world to feed everyone.
In this guide, we look at the data behind that answer.
We also look at where the food we produce goes, and why people in the world still currently go hungry (or go malnourished) if there’s technically enough food to prevent this.
Summary – Is There Currently Enough Food In The World To Feed Everyone?
Is Enough Food Produced Right Now To Feed Everyone In World?
In absolute terms, yes there is.
Some sources indicate that there’s actually enough food produced to feed 1.5x times the world’s current population.
In numbers terms, there’s was 7.7 billion people on Earth as of 2019, and there might be enough food produced in absolute terms to feed 10 billion people.
To support this claim, different sources say that not only has food availability and food accessibility improved over the last few decades, but, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth over the past few decades too.
So, Why Do People Still Go Hungry Or Malnourished Then?
The latest figures are that around 800 million people still suffer from chronic hunger worldwide, and several billion (about 25% of people in developing countries) suffer from malnutrition in the form of undernutrition.
The total number of people affected by these issues is expected to increase in the future (by about 2 billion people) as the world population grows.
Based on the answer at the top of this summary, absolute food scarcity can be ruled out as the cause for this.
The main causes of the extent of hunger and malnutrition in a geographic region in the world are:
Poverty is said to be the main cause, but it’s connected to other causes too
Most of the world’s hunger and malnourishment issues are in low income, lesser developed countries.
Consumers don’t have a large disposable income to purchase food for themselves, and this can come from unemployment and under employment, caused by a lack of economic opportunities in the overall economy
Farmers and food producers are not only not receiving cash flow from consumers, but they are also resource poor, which means that they can’t scale up agricultural production, or look at efficiency improvements. Farmers in lower income regions may also be operating on smaller plots of land without access to newer technology and equipment, which can severely impact productivity
One source indicates that ‘half the food in the world is produced by 1.5 billion farmers working small plots for which monocultures are unsustainable’ (huffpost.com)
Poverty is really a reflection of the overall economic system i.e. how strong or weak it is, and how well it functions in it’s ability to generate economic opportunities for growth, and to also maintain that
Unstable economies can also contribute to poverty.
– Inequality of food distribution
In other words, this is the uneven geographic distribution and access to affordable food around the world
It comes as a result of poverty, but also because of features of the global food system, such as a difference in purchasing power between developed and lesser developed countries.
With this being the case, even the food that is being produced in lower income countries and regions may be unevenly distributed to wealthier countries who can pay more for it, or who are already a major part of the food supply and production chains. Said another way – food produced in countries where people go hungry can end up being exported to higher income countries (where there ends up being a lot of food waste)
– The behavior of developed and wealthy countries
Developed/wealthy countries waste a certain % of food, and also use agricultural land to produce food for biofuels.
One source indicates that ‘the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops in the world for example go to biofuels [for vehicles] and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry’ (huffpost.com)
Several sources indicate that if this food was re-directed to countries in need, the world’s hungry and malnourished could be fed.
Although, there might be some debate about the practicality of how this could be prevented and addressed, and whether those resources could realistically be re-directed or not.
Wealthier countries may also consume more food per capita (i.e. have a high consumption rate), and can also consume a certain % of resource intensive foods.
Some say this ‘overconsumption’ may contribute to food system issues too.
– Other features of the food system, or, things that could be improved
There’s many small examples of this, with some of these examples relating to the causes above
For example, a lack of cold storage systems to keep food fresh, and a lack of food protection for food on the way to processing from the farm in low income countries may lead to food loss that is preventable if they had the money and resources to invest in these things.
– Other causes
We’ve listed some other potential causes in the guide below
Will We Have Enough Food In The World In The Future To Feed Everyone?
* A Note About The Criteria For ‘Feeding Everyone’
Something to note is that having enough food in the world to feed everyone can depend on the criteria used for feeding people.
For example, adequate food could be measured in terms of calories, but could also be measured across different macro nutrients.
As another example, the types of foods or types of food diets matter too. We know for example that different food diet types have different potential carrying capacities.
What Is The Current World Population?
Is There Enough Food In The World To Feed Everyone?
According to several sources, there is enough food produced in absolute terms to feed everyone in the world.
There might be several lines of supporting data for these claims.
Can Everyone Be Fed?
… there is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone (ozharvest.org)
The world produces enough food to feed everyone (worldhunger.org)
Supporting Evidence For This Claim – Improvement In Food Supply & Production Over Last Few Decades
… for the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth [and this suggests food scarcity is the main cause of world hunger issues] (huffpost.com)
[Globally …] per capita caloric availability and food diversity (the variety of food groups in a diet) have increased between the 1960s and 2011 …
This growth in food availability, along with improved access to food, helped reduce the percentage of chronically undernourished people in lower-middle-income countries from about 30 percent in the 1990-92 to about 13 percent two decades later …
How Many People Can Be Fed At The Current Level Of Global Food Production?
Roughly 1.5x the current world population can be fed on the world’s currently level of production.
In numbers terms, 10 billion could be fed.
The world’s farmers produce enough food to feed 1.5x the global population [and] That’s enough to feed 10 billion (we are at 7.6 billion currently) (medium.com, and researchgate.net)
As of 2019, [according to some reports] the world produces enough food to feed about 10 billion people, or roughly just under 1.5x the current world population number (Huffpost.com)
How Many People In The World Suffer From Chronic Hunger, Or Are Undernourished?
Chronic food hunger usually refers to limited or unreliable access to foods that are safe and nutritionally adequate i.e. these people don’t have enough food to eat.
But, hunger issues can also relate to refer to malnutrition, which is undernutrition or over nutrition.
Roughly 800 million people suffer from chronic food hunger, and about 25% of people in developing countries are undernourished
The total number of people suffering from food related hunger and nutrition issues is expected to increase in the future as the world population grows
About 815 million people do not have enough food … and nearly 25 percent of people in developing countries are undernourished (worldvision.org)
… about 815 million people of the 7.6 billion people in the world, or 10.7%, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2016 (worldhunger.org)
In 2018, 795 million people were hungry (medium.com)
… more than one-quarter of the planet’s 7.5 billion people suffer from malnutrition, and nearly 1 billion are chronically hungry (theguardian.com)
One in nine people do not have enough food to eat, that’s 793 million people who are undernourished (ozharvest.org)
In The Future
Another 2 billion [people] are expected to [join the 795 million people that were hungry in 2018] by 2050 (medium.com)
If There Is Enough Food In The World For Everyone, Why Do People Still Go Hungry?
Based on the information in this guide, absolute food scarcity worldwide doesn’t appear to be the main cause of chronic hunger and undernutrition.
Local factors and the global food system seem to impact these issues.
Some of the main causes for chronic hunger (people not having enough food) and undernutrition are:
– Poverty and economic issues in the reason such as underemployment or no employment, low income which limits disposable income to spend on food, farmers not having the finances, technology, equipment, or resources for better productivity or efficiency, some countries having a lack of purchasing power in the world economy relative to other countries, a weak or unstable economy, and so on
– Politics, and food and agricultural policy set by the government and other organisations
– Inequality of food distribution
– The different dimensions of food security
– Farmers having to work on small plots of land with monocultures
For example, when dealing with food loss in developing countries, cold chain infrastructure to keep food fresh in controlled temperatures, and closed, refrigerated trucks along the supply chain could help decrease food loss. Better food protection materials during transport could also stop food from getting damaged/bruised and decrease food loss.
Better consumer attitudes and better policies and co-ordination from food suppliers and retailers could help prevent food waste in developed countries.
But, read the full food waste and food loss guide for a more comprehensive set of reasons.
– Agricultural land being used for biofuels rather than food, and also resource intensive animal feedlots
– Wealthier countries also have access to more advanced technology to meet food demand, such as lab grown meat, just as one example
A changing climate could also impact food production in the future.
Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity (researchgate.net)
[The income of the region plays a major role in chronic hunger and undernourishment issues as …] Almost all the [815 million] hungry people live in lower-middle-income countries
As a comparison, there are 11 million people undernourished in developed countries
[Having] sufficient income to purchase (or land to grow) enough food or access nutritious food [is an issue in low income regions, and] This is an element of “food security”
The four dimensions [defined by the FAO for food security to exist] are: 1) physical availability of food, 2) economic and physical access to food, 3) food utilization, and 4) the stability of those other dimensions over time.
[So, issues with any of these dimensions can lead to hunger issues]
[The world food system does not have a] scarcity problem [so, producing more food is not necessarily a solution]
The causes are related to poverty mainly, and also inequality of food distribution [and other flaws in the food system]
[Unemployment and underemployment are huge causes of poverty, along with a weak or unstable economy]
Developing countries have poor consumers [who live on small amounts of income and for who food makes up a large portion of their disposable income]
Developing countries also have resource poor farmers cultivating on very small plots of land [which severely impacts productivity and the ability to produce higher totals of food that developed countries do, and] Half the food in the world is produced by 1.5 billion farmers working small plots for which monocultures are unsustainable.
[When consumers have no money to pay farmers, farmers have no resources to invest in food production – it can be a downward spiral]
The bulk of industrially-produced grain crops in the world [also] go to biofuels [for vehicles] and confined animal feedlots rather than [directly to the 1 billion people that go hungry]
A lack of cold chain infrastructure [that control temperature for food throughout the supply chain] and open-air flatbed trucks instead of closed, refrigerated trucks contribute to food loss in developing countries (theguardian.com)
worldhunger.org outlines these reasons for hunger despite the level of food production:
Poverty is the main reason, along with the causes and cyclical factors related to poverty
[But, there’s also] Conflict … Political instability … Food and agricultural policy [and] A changing climate
A lot of our food is produced in countries where the people don’t have enough to eat themselves [and this may suggest that that food is being exported to other countries]
For example, most of the green beans for the EU market are produced in Kenya.
This is a country where water is scarce and because of the bean farms many people and schools do not have access to water.
Our inability to feed the entirety of the world’s population is mostly due to food waste (medium.com)
In The Future
A changing climate could be an issue in the future.
In the future, climate change might [impact yield in a number of ways and] do more to keep people hungry than inefficient food systems or food waste
… the US Midwest Region, Brazil and Indonesia are all expected to be impacted and have their corn crop yields decreased in the future by climate change
The Role Of Food Waste In World Food Production & World Hunger
You can read more about food waste and loss around the world in this guide.
But, below are some stats on how many people wasted food might feed, and also some practical considerations for re-directing resources for wasted food.
The estimation of how many additional people food waste could feed (if it was all redirected to those who go hungry) is about an additional 1 to 3 billion people.
This might be theoretical only, and impractical for a number of reasons, but it’s up to 3 x the number of people that currently go hungry worldwide.
How Many People Can Wasted Food Feed?
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) points out that if we tackled the problem of food waste, we could feed 9 billion people a day (toogoodtogo.co.uk)
[The amount of food that is wasted annually …] could feed around 3 billion people each year [… which is nearly 4 x] the number of all the hungry people [in the world] (eatresponsibly.eu)
If one quarter of the food currently lost or wasted could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people (ozharvest.org)
It’s estimated the world produces enough food waste … to feed as many as 2 billion people each year [and that equates to …] roughly one-third of the global food supply (worldvision.org)
It is estimated that the food wasted by the USA and Europe could feed the world 3 times over (Wikipedia.org)
Practical Considerations About Wasted Food
Something to note with food waste though is that not all wasted food is edible or can be recovered.
Additionally, if most of the food is wasted in wealthier countries – there is a practical geographic challenge in redirecting wasted food to those who need it (from one country to another).
Improving the economy in lower income and lesser developed regions, especially the agricultural sector and the ability of local consumers to purchase food, might be a better solution to address hunger problems than investing resources into re-directing food waste.
Will We Have Enough Food In The Future?
7. Eric Holt-Giménez, Annie Shattuck, Miguel Altieri, Hans Herren & Steve Gliessman (2012): We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People … and Still Can’t End Hunger, Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 36:6, 595-598. Available at – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/241746569_We_Already_Grow_Enough_Food_for_10_Billion_People_and_Still_Can’t_End_Hunger
14. Berners-Lee, M., Kennelly, C., Watson, R. and Hewitt, C.N., 2018. Current global food production is sufficient to meet human nutritional needs in 2050 provided there is radical societal adaptation. Elem Sci Anth, 6(1), p.52. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.310. Available at https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.1525/elementa.310/