A growing world population in the future likely means a growing demand for food.
In this guide, we look at whether the world will have enough food to meet this demand, and consider what factors may impact whether food demand can be met or not.
Summary – Will The World Have Enough Food In The Future?
Is There Enough Food Right Now To Feed Everyone?
Various sources claim that we already produce enough food worldwide in absolute terms to feed around 10 billion people – far more than the existing population of 7.8 billion people
If There’s Enough Food For Everyone In Terms Of Absolute Food Production, Why Do People Still Go Hungry & Undernourished?
People in many developed countries can actually have an excess of food, to the point that food waste at the consumer level can be an issue.
So, having enough food can be specific to each geographical region.
Roughly 800 million people still go hungry worldwide (i.e. don’t have enough food to eat), and about 25% of the people in developing countries are undernourished
There’s various causes suggested for this, which we outline in this guide
Future Population Size Forecasts
To understand whether there might be enough food in the future, future population growth and size has to be considered.
Estimates of the future world population range anywhere from a growth to 9 to 10 billion for the year 2050, and 10 to 13 billion by the year 2100
Future Food Demand Forecast
One report from FAO.org indicates that (paraphrased) in order to meet future food demand for the world population in 2050, food production would need to increase by around 70% (from 2005/07 to 2050)
Although they also mention that is depends on the country, as developing countries could need to double their current production levels (due to larger population growth)
So, Will There Be Enough Food In The Future?
Based on current food production numbers and future population forecasts … to summarise in absolute terms, we can see that the world produces enough food right now for 2050, and also the lower limit of the year 2100 estimate (i.e. around 10 billion people)
But, there are factors that could impact food production, population numbers, agriculture, and other related factors in the future
It’s also worth noting that having enough food in terms of absolute production doesn’t guarantee everyone in the world will get access to food.
Being a low income region, uneven geographical distribution of food, and other factors impact how much food is available to buy and consume in each country
This means people could still go hungry in some parts of the world in the future if these factors aren’t addressed – like what is happening now.
Some projections expect the total number of people without enough food to eat (i.e. those experiencing chronic hunger) to increase by another 2 billion people total in the future by the year 2050
Factors That Might Impact Whether There Is Enough Food In The Future
These factors relate to key areas of society such as the economy, food production, food distribution, population size, and more.
We provide a list of these factors in the guide below.
Solutions To Feeding The World Population In The Future
Solutions to feeding the world population in the future might centre around addressing and managing the factors that impact food production, population growth, food distribution, etc.
We list some of these solutions in the guide below
Do We Currently Have Enough Food To Feed Everyone In The World?
The numbers behind this answer are:
– There’s about 7.8 billion people in the world as of 2019/20
– As of 2019, the world produces enough food to feed about 10 billion people, or roughly just under 1.5x the current world population number
If There’s Enough Food To Feed Everyone, Why Do People Still Go Hungry Or Undernourished?
Despite the data saying that there’s enough food production in absolute terms to feed everyone in the world, there’s still people that experience chronic hunger (not enough food to eat), and undernourishment.
We’ve listed the potential main causes for this in this guide.
Poverty, and uneven food distribution and access in different countries around the world, are some of the main reasons.
Estimations For World Population Size In The Future (By 2050, & 2100)
In this guide, we list of few projections for the world population by the year 2050, and also the year 2100.
Different forecasts indicate the world population might get to 9 to 10 billion by 2050, and around 11 billion by 2100.
Will We Run Out Of Food In The Future? Or, Will We Have Enough Food?
It depends on the country, city or town in question.
There will be different factors and variables that determine whether there’s enough food in the future for each geographic location.
We list some of those factors and variables in the guide below.
Will We Run Out Of Meat In The Future?
It depends on the type of meat, and the location in question
Specifically for meat, technology like lab grown meat may change the supply of meat in the future, compared to just wild caught meat and traditional animal agriculture
Will We Run Out Of Fish & Seafood In The Future?
It’s possible some fish and aquatic species may see population declines in the future, but not so much others
It depends on the species and location in question
Specifically for fish, aquaculture and fish farming may help supplement or add to marine and freshwater fish numbers
Estimates On How Much Food Production Will Have To Increase To Increase In The Future
time.com provides on estimate on how much agricultural production will have to increase in the future, up to the year 2050, in order to meet the demand of the world population at that point:
… agricultural production worldwide will have to increase by 70% in order to feed a global population expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050
However, the types of food diets we consume may impact these sorts of estimates (i.e. how much meat we consume vs other types of foods)
Factors That May Impact Whether There Is Enough Food In The Future
The future supply of food might be heavily influenced by factors like population growth, agricultural production, availability of arable land and topsoil, availability of water for agriculture, use of alternative food production methods (such as lab grown meat, or fish farming, just as two examples), food waste, availability of cold storage technology for developing countries, resource intensity of diets, and other factors
Aside from the production of food, accessibility to food can also be an issue – strength of an economy, purchasing power, politics, government, and international trade can all play a part here to make sure food systems are giving citizens food security.
In more detail, specific factors that could impact whether there is enough food in the future worldwide, and in different geographical regions, might include but aren’t limited to:
Economic factors for an individual country or geographical region, such as how strong or weak the economy is, level of overall poverty, level of employment, income levels and purchasing power of consumers in different countries, affordability of nutritious food for consumers, financial resources for farmers to invest in agricultural resources, equipment and technology, and more
Whether there is access and availability to nutritious food in an individual country – this is essentially food security, or, distribution of food to an individual country (to more countries where food is available and secure, the more even food distribution is). Several factors impact this such as the level of local food production, the importation of food, and the ability of consumers to have enough disposable income and purchasing power to buy food, just to name a few
Government policy relating to agriculture and food, and how well a country can integrate themselves into international trade to export and import food
How much an individual country grows in population size, and the subsequent increase in demand for food (and vice versa if a country decreases in population size)
How much food a country produces and whether the rate of food production can continue to outpace population growth in the future (as it has the last few decades)
The types of foods a country produces, and what the average diet looks like. Different foods and food diet types have different carrying capacities, and some are more resource intensive than others. Different diet types like vegetarian and vegan have different potential carrying capacities compared to other diet types like animal meat and animal product heavy diets. Different foods also use more land than others at the farming stage. Beef in particular as a specific type of food may be one of the more resource intensive foods too
The food system within a country, it’s infrastructure, and how well it functions (e.g. the logistics of transporting food from farm to businesses and consumers within a country, or, how well suppliers/producers and supermarket co-ordinate between themselves)
How agricultural technology, advancements and enhancements, and agricultural systems progress within a country – the use of GMOs, scientific technology that impacts soil, growing more food with less land and increasing yields and productivity of existing land, just as examples
How much more cropland and grazing land can be used for agriculture in the future, beyond what we are currently using worldwide (more land may equal more production)
What agricultural land is used for – specifically, how much land is used to grow food that directly goes to humans vs how much land is used to grow food that goes to livestock first, or to biofuels. Some sources say that in the US specifically, two-thirds of calories from crops produced are used to feed animals, and if these calories were instead directed toward humans, the U.S. could feed nearly three times as many people as it currently does. The efficiency of conversion of animal feed to food is a consideration here. Electric vehicles and renewable energy may play a part in reducing the need for biofuels in some capacities
How much topsoil there is left for farming in the future, and also the health and fertility of that soil, along with other factors that impact topsoil as a resource, and soil yield. As a result of erosion over the past 40 years, 30 percent of the world’s arable land has become unproductive. Also, whether or not the yield of certain staple crops can be increased any further. Just four crops—maize, rice, wheat, and soybeans—provide two-thirds of the calories we harvest from fields. In many parts of the world, the yields for these crops are not rising.
The impact of global water issues like water scarcity, water stress and water pollution and contamination on agriculture and food production in the future, and how much water is available for irrigation. Agriculture/irrigation is a major freshwater user in society
What climates will be like in different geographic areas, and how they impact of agriculture and food production – changing climates could lead to either more favorable or less favorable agricultural conditions (changing rainfall, hotter or colder temperatures, evaporation, changing growing seasons, changing suitability of growing certain crops, and so on). For example, some sources say corn yields are expected to be decreased in the US Midwest regions, and countries and regions like Brazil and Indonesia, according to some sources
Levels of general land and soil degradation in the future, and how that impacts agricultural land
The environmental impact of agriculture, and the impact on biodiversity and wildlife in the future. Can we keep using synthetic nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers at current levels and not cross planetary boundaries for example? The same goes for pesticides, greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural waste, and so on
The availability, affordability, effectiveness and overall impact of alternate ways to produce food, other than conventional agriculture, such as lab grown meat, or even aquaculture. Whether these methods can scale and how much more sustainable they are compared to conventional agriculture might come into question for example
Whether food waste and food loss can be addressed in developed, and also developing countries, and how effectively recovered or unwasted food can be distributed to the regions that need it
How To Feed The World’s Population In The Future – Potential Considerations & Strategies
Although some solutions and strategies might be able to be applied generally, other solutions and strategies may need to be applied locally, depending on the variables affecting food production, food distribution, and food security in a specific local economy/region.
There would then need to be co-ordination locally, nationally and internationally between farmers, suppliers and processors, transport and freight, supermarkets and retailers, consumers, governments, and so on.
Developed countries are going to face very different challenges to developing countries, and will likely have more capacity to create change and invest or help.
Ultimately, many of the solution listed below address the factors listed above in this guide, as it makes sense to aim solutions at the main causes of chronic hunger, undernourishment and food security problems.
General Solutions & Strategies
General solutions and strategies to feed the world’s population might include but aren’t limited to:
– Instead of focussing on total food production, in the short term, the main focus might be on improving economic conditions in countries and regions where chronic hunger and undernourishment are most prevalent, as this is one of the main causes
Addressing poverty and a weak economy does not have one simple/straightforward answer.
But, it might involve addressing different areas such as unemployment and underemployment, incomes that allow food to become a smaller % of a person’s overall disposable weekly income, having affordable nutritious food available locally, having better local purchasing power relative to the rest of the world, and having resources and financing for farmers and food producers to increase investment in food production.
It can be difficult to balance sustaining local farmers whilst also providing local people enough food to eat – as help such as food aid can eliminate demand for local agricultural products in the short term whilst an economy strengthens over time.
So, there would be many challenges
There may be specific focus on improving economic conditions for those in rural areas too, as almost four-fifths of the world’s poor live in rural areas, though those areas account for less than half of the world’s population.
– Consider how wealthier countries can work with or support less wealthy countries to address food security issues
weforum.org indicates that wealthier countries might be able to afford to support less wealthy countries in some ways: ‘The world can afford the needed investment … it would cost the equivalent of 0.3% of the world’s 2014 income. Wealthier countries would need to provide budgetary support and technical assistance to the low-income countries that need it. (Most middle-income countries can afford the needed financing themselves.)’
– Ensuring the food system is working effectively in each country, and associated infrastructure is functioning effectively
This involves all processes up and down the supply chain internally within a country.
This includes the harvesting stage, transport to food processors, food processing, transport to retailers and contracts and co-ordination with food retailers, access to food for consumers, food storage and preservation, and so on.
But, it also involves international import and export related to food.
Ensuring each country has the means to either produce their own food, or import food as required, would be critical.
A strong local economy shields nations from the global market, and in the event of a local event that puts food security at risk, food can be imported.
– Increase (or maintain) yields of existing crops where possible
[Key areas where production could be increased, bringing yields closer to their potential, include wheat in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, rice in South Asia, and maize in East Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, yields of cassava, maize, and sugarcane could also be greatly improved] (environmentreports.com).
Specifically with agricultural assessment of yields – it needs to get more detailed by food type and measurement metric.
For example yield is different when comparing tons per acre, compared to tons per input of water or energy, compared to yield per unit of calories, protein and other nutritional units.
There should also be some consideration with what to do about staple crops and staple foods that have peaked in terms of yield rate … where will future food production come from if the population keeps growing?
In the past – to increase food production – we’ve expanded global croplands, increased harvested land, and increased crop yields.
But, we can’t keep doing this because crop yields are declining for prominent crops in parts of the world (due to heat stress, high night temperatures, depleted soils, erosion, and disease), and we are edging up on using nearly all of the land that’s suitable for agriculture already (environmentreports.com).
Expanding and intensifying agriculture and food production can only take us so far.
New agricultural technology, different farming practices, or changing consumer consumption to suit existing yields and future yields might all be potential solutions.
– Looking at the benefits of practice/systems based, or technological and science based, agricultural advancements and enhancements
Related to the above point, advancements, improvements and new technologies might help improve soil health, increase yield and productivity, or help make agriculture easier and more profitable.
The use of GMOs might be one example of this
– Place more emphasis on preserving the agricultural topsoil we have left, and considering soil health and fertility
Depth of topsoil is an important consideration for the future, and erosion of this topsoil is eroding a finite resource. Minimizing land and soil degradation to agricultural land helps with preserving topsoil and the land itself, to keep it more productive and usuable
Also, soil health (pH levels, salinity, ability to retain moisture and so on), and soil fertility are important to yields, and things like soil moisture and nutrient retention
Different farming practices like sustainable farming practices might help with soil conservation and soil health/fertility.
There are different pros and cons to sustainable farming to consider though
– Using the grazing and cropland that is in use more efficiently, and assessing how we might best use the agricultural land currently not being utilized around the world
Agricultural land is a finite resource
Using the land currently in use more efficiently by using it for resource efficient agricultural products is one approach (such as considering the amount of protein and calories we get from raising livestock vs the land we use to raise them and grow their feed, and comparing it to plants and other food sources)
Considering how much unused land can be used effectively and economically is also another approach to making the best use of the world’s available agricultural land
– Consider how different foods and food types have different carrying capacities, and use different amounts of land, as well as other resources
There’s various studies that show that different food and food diet types have different carrying capacities in terms of how many people they can support, as well as using different amounts of resources like land, water, pesticides and fertilizers, and so on
Understanding these studies can help with the efficient use of resources and will also play a role in production
Food still needs to be healthy, nutritious and cater to people’s pecific dietary requirements though – some of which could conflict with sustainable resource use goals
Also, farming is a business as well – farmers need to be able to produce what is profitable, or be subsidized or financially supported if they are to take risks or be forced to implement new practices or to grow new products that might not be profitable. There would be questions over the long term feasibility of unprofitable agricultural products though
We’ve put together two guides about what the most sustainable animal meats might be, and what the most sustainable overall foods and diets might be.
These guides further discuss resource usage and environmental impact of the different individual foods.
– Specifically with land use – we might weigh up how inefficient it is to continue to use land to produce animal feed for livestock and also to use land for biofuels, instead of using land for food that goes directly to humans for direct consumption
With livestock, there’s an additional step to convert feed energy to meat, and it’s a similar principle for biofuels.
Alternatives to land inefficient live stock (such as more land efficient foods), and alternatives to biofuels (such as renewables) could be considered
[The US and Brazil send a lot of their crop calories to animal feed. India and Europe are quite good at sending crop calories to feed people first (before animals and before making biofuels). China could do better with sending their crop calories to people (although the total number of people they have to feed is obviously significant because of population density)] (environmentreports.com).
[… much of the crops currently being grown are not destined for people (only 59% of calories that we grow do we actually consume – (environmentreports.com).
The more developed a country’s agricultural system, the more crops tend to be used to feed animals or make biofuel (U.S. croplands produce a lot of calories, but an astounding two-thirds of calories are used to feed animals.
If these calories were instead directed toward humans, the U.S. could feed nearly three times as many people as it currently does according to some sources.
Regarding feed grown for livestock – only about 14 percent of global livestock feed (measured in carbon mass) is from pasture totally unsuitable for growing crops – so there is a lot of potential there to use land more efficiently for human food (environmentreports.com)]
– Consider how alternative food production other than conventional agriculture, could produce more food, or take pressure off conventional agriculture
It would of course have to be sustainable, scalable and affordable though
Lab grown meat might be one example of an alternate food source
Eating insects/bugs might be another food source that can be scaled up, but, it might have pros and cons to consider
– Consideration for how consumer habits impact food production sustainability
Food consumption rate and consumer lifestyles can impact the strain put on agriculture to meet consumer demand
Some foods and lifestyles might be more sustainable when correlating to the farming practices required to support them
One trend is that as countries become wealthier (and have more disposable income and better purchasing power), they tend to consume more resource heavy foods like animal meat – so, this is a consideration.
Some studies also indicate that vegetarian and vegan diets tend to have higher carrying capacities over diets based around animal meat, animal products, sweeteners, and food products included in a typical Western diet
In terms of consumption rates, wealthy countries also tend to consume far more per capita, and waste far more at the consumer stage than developing countries despite having smaller populations.
This trend is expected to continue in the future where wealthy countries are expected to make up 2/3 of future food consumption, despite majority of population growth not expected to take place in these countries.
In wealthier countries, solutions may lie in addressing unsustainable farming practices, diets that are resource heavy to produce, overconsumption by consumers, and food and resource waste
– Consider how population size may be a problem in regions where there is already food production, food security, and chronic hunger and undernourishment issues
An increase in population may make these problems worse
So, considering managing population sizes by managing fertility rates, immigration, and other factors might help in some ways
The other option is to adjust food production and food security (as well as economic conditions) to match population size and consumer demand
But, the carrying capacity of any one city or region is an important consideration too
– Sustainably and effectively managing freshwater supplies in the future
Agriculture/irrigation is a major freshwater user in society, and uses water mainly for irrigation
Avoiding water issues like water stress and water scarcity can help address this in other parts of society where we use water, but also investing in water efficient irrigation systems and technology for agriculture
Drought prone areas and water scarce areas in particular might diversify their water sources, and have a diversified food production strategy that involves importing certain water hungry food when water supplies are low.
– Consider the impact of a changing climate, temperatures and weather patterns on different geographic regions around the world when it comes to agriculture
Some climate and agricultural conditions may change for the better, and some for the worse
Adaptability to the impact of changing climates will be one approach
But also, consider how greenhouse gas emissions and factors affecting climate change plays a role in this – mitigation can be another approach
– Considering how the environmental and sustainability impact of agriculture could be lessened, and how farming and agriculture can become more sustainable
In regards to the use and impact of, and/or depletion of synthetic nitrogen, phosphate and potash fertilizers, pesticides, agricultural waste (such as manure from livestock), greenhouse gas emissions, water/soil/air pollution, and so on
Agriculture plays a role in impacting what are thought to be some of the major planetary boundaries we should stay within
But heavy and intensive farming practices can also deplete soil in the long term
More sustainable farming practices could play a role here
– Address both food waste and food loss in developed and developed countries
For example, at the farming and pre consumer stage in developing countries (refrigeration and better food storage could play a part here), and at the retailer and consumer stage in developed countries.
A reasonable goal to aim for might be to halve all of current food waste (theguardian.com)
It’s also worth knowing that only a third of current food waste is truly inedible (theguardian.com)
– Diversify and decentralize agriculture (medium.com)
What Other Sources Say About How To Feed The Future Population
msutoday.msu.edu indicates that:
[To feed the future population, we will need to change how] we lose or waste food, or we will need to boost food production to feed that many people.
[Population size/growth, and having a finite amount of agricultural land, as well as the quality of this land … are factors that can be difficult to modify or improve]
[With environmental stresses for agriculture such as a varying climate in the future, and pests, pathogens/diseases, and other factors making agriculture more difficult for conventional crops … GMO crops might present some help or another option in this regard]
elementascience.org provides provides a study on food production meeting population size by 2050:
The current production of crops is sufficient to provide enough food for the projected global population of 9.7 billion in 2050, although very significant changes to the socio-economic conditions of many (ensuring access to the global food supply) and radical changes to the dietary choices of most (replacing most meat and dairy with plant-based alternatives, and greater acceptance of human-edible crops currently fed to animals, especially maize, as directly-consumed human food) would be required.
Under all scenarios, the scope for biofuel production is limited.
… [there’s] no nutritional case for feeding human-edible crops to animals, which reduces calorie and protein supplies.
If society continues on a ‘business-as-usual’ dietary trajectory, a 119% increase in edible crops grown will be required by 2050.
Increasing Agricultural Input In The Future – For Both Developed & Developing Countries
There’s a big difference in how developed vs developing countries produce food, and the scale at which they can do it.
But, various sources indicate that both can increase agricultural output in the future with different approaches.
According to investopedia.com:
Developed countries already have well developed infrastructure, and already make use of a lot of land, pesticides and fertilisers, as well as advanced technology, irrigation and machinery.
Technology advancements, efficiency of farming method, and scientific methods like GMO crops are likely to be where output increases.
Less developed countries do not have advanced technology, infrastructure or scientific methods available, so simply increasing use of resources, building up infrastructure and introducing technology and modern machinery and systems may see an increase in yield and output.
… in developing countries, 80% of the necessary increases in food production keep pace with population growth are projected to come from increases in yields and the number of times per year crops can be grown on the same land. Only 20% of new food production is expected to come from expansion of farming land (who.int)
In terms of increasing food production in the future …
Developed countries may have reached the point of diminishing returns in terms of increasing agricultural output significantly
Technology advancements, efficiency of farming methods, and scientific methods like GMO crops might be where output increases are available in the future
Developing countries might look to bringing in more commercial, industrial and mass scale developed country farming techniques to increase agricultural output – although, this depends on factors like investment, finances and suitable land (amongst other factors)
There’s several factors to keep in mind that can impact how and where crops grow worldwide
There Might Not Be Just One Solution To Ensuring The World Has Enough Food In The Future – A Strategy Composed Of Multiple Solutions Might Be The Right Approach
Rather than focussing on particular solution to ensure the world has enough food in the future, we might instead ensure the food system is working well as a whole, and we pursue an effective strategy composed of multiple solutions.
… anyone interested in food security should be looking for multiple solutions [and we shouldn’t] be expecting any one food to solve things …
8. Max Roser (2020) – “Future Population Growth”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/future-population-growth’ [Online Resource]
13. 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/