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Future trends

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  • The world’s population is predicted to reach 9Bn by 2050, 90% of which will occur in the developing world where water is already scarce. The population on the banks of the Nile is expected to double to 300M by 2025 (ref 2).
  • Obesity will continue to rise in developed countries. It is estimated that there are a billion overweight people in the world, 300M of them obese (ref 3, ref 4).
  • Obesity will increase in rapidly industrialising countries. As a country’s GDP increases, so does its population’s total calorific intake (and taste for meat). Food poverty can also lead to consumption of a diet rich in cheap, highly refined carbohydrates, which can cause weight gain, and conditions such as type II diabetes (ref 4, ref 5, ref 6).
  • 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050 – compared to 50% now (ref 7).

Production and consumption

  • Diet related to ill health costs Britain’s NHS £8Bn per year; obesity alone is estimated to cost the wider economy £15.8Bn. Foresight, the UK Government’s future-oriented stakeholder group, suggests the figure could be £50Bn by 2050 (ref 3, ref 8).
  • Britain is likely to become less self-sufficient in food production. The UK is 73% self-sufficient in indigenous-type foods and 60% self-sufficient in all food – meaning that in 2009 40% of all food is imported (ref 5). 69% of the UK’s land is already used for agriculture, there is demand for more housing (and forest) and as an increasing population demands a varied diet the UK is likely to import more food in the coming decades.
  • In 1965, the per capita consumption of meat in developing countries was 10.2kg a year, but is predicted to rise to 36.7kg by 2030, which will increase cereal prices (the principal animal feeds) and increase water stress (ref 2). Per capita meat consumption in developing countries doubled from 14 to 28 kg between 1980 and 2002. 
  • The World Bank estimates that cereal production needs to increase by 50% (from 2.1 to 3Bn tonnes) and meat production by 85% (to reach 470M tonnes) between 2000 and 2030 to meet demand (ref 3,ref 7, ref 9).
  • In developing countries, 80% of the necessary production increases to meet demand are projected to come from increases in yields and cropping intensity and 20% from the expansion of arable land (ref 7).
  • Without major technological intervention, the growth in yields will continue to level out. Globally the annual rate of growth in yields of the major cereal crops is likely to slow, as it has from 3.2% per year in 1960 to 1.5% percent in 2000 (ref 7).


  • The increase in the total average annual net investment in developing country agriculture required to deliver the necessary production increases amounts to $83Bn (ref 7).
  • Including the cost of renewing depreciating investments, the annual gross investment required from developing countries is $209Bn. It has been estimated that developing countries on average invested $142Bn annually in agriculture over the past decade. The required increase is therefore about 50%. Figures are totals for public and private investment (ref 7).
  • Economic growth originating in agriculture, especially in the smallholder sector, is at least twice as effective at benefitting the poorest people as growth from non-agricultural sectors. This is because 75% of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas and their incomes are directly or indirectly linked to agriculture (ref 7).
  • Many countries will continue to rely on international trade to ensure their food security. It is estimated that by 2050 developing countries’ net imports of cereals will more than double from 135M tonnes in 2008/09 to 300M tonnes by 2050 (ref 7).
  • UK farming incomes increased by 36% in 2008, mainly due to the high price of cereals in the 2008 food price spike, but long term trends since the 1970s show declines in farming incomes (ref 10).


  • A smaller selection of pesticides will be available to use because of international agreements and legislation. For instance, the widely used fumigant methyl bromide was phased out in many countries by 2005 (though exemptions remain) by the Montreal Protocol and other chemicals are to be phased out in the next decade by the EU Framework Directive (ref 11).
  • Climate change may affect the Southern hemisphere more adversely than the Northern hemisphere. The negative impact of climate change on agricultural impact in Africa could be 15-30% up to 2080-2100 (ref 7).
  • Biofuel production using agricultural commodities will continue to increase. Biofuel production based on agricultural commodities increased more than threefold from 2000-08 (ref 7).
  • In 2007-08 total use of coarse grains from ethanol production reached 110M tonnes, around 10% of global production (ref 7).


  • Nearly three-quarters of the world’s water is used for irrigation and agriculture (ref 7). The UN predicts that irrigation demands will increase by 50-100% by 2025 (ref 2).
  • In Africa, a quarter of the population already lives with chronic water stress, and globally 2.8Bn people currently live in areas of water stress – a figure predicted to rise to 3.9Bn by 2030 (ref 2).
  • Political disagreements over water for agriculture will lead to military conflicts. 145 countries share lakes and river basins, and there are more than 300 agreements between nations. More than 30 countries have been involved in ‘water wars’ (ref 2).  
  • Potential areas of tension include the Mekong Delta (China plans 8 dams that will divert water from Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam); Bangladesh and India (54 rivers flow between the countries, but India had plans to divert water from the Ganges to its water-poor south); Turkey and Syria have both dammed the Euphrates which puts water stress on downstream Iraq (ref 2).
  • The River Jordan, which supplies water to Israel, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, could shrink by up to 80% by the end of the century (ref 2).
  • The Zambesi basin supports 32M people across 8 countries. The population is growing, but precipitation is expected to decrease 15% by 2050 (ref 2).


  1. UN World Food Programme 2009 (PDF)
  2. Water wars, Eureka #2, The Times
  3. Food Matters: Towards a Strategy for the 21st Century
  4. WHO Global Strategy Diet & Physical Activity
  5. BBSRC Future directions in research relating to food security
  6. BBC Special Report: the cost of food
  7. FAO How to feed the world in 2050 (PDF)
  8. Food matters: one year on
  9. World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development
  10. Defra: The Future of our Farming
  11. EU Environment Sustainable Use of Pesticides

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