Production: the trends

Posted: 13 December 2007

Annual growth of world agricultural output is expected to fall to 1.5 per cent over the next decades and further to 0.9 per cent in the succeeding 20 years to 2050, compared with 2.3 per cent per year since 1961, the FAO reports.

  • All the major commodity sectors (except milk) are expected to witness an deceleration of agricultural growth. The cereals sector has already been in a downward trend for some time and is expected to continue to have the lowest growth rate of the major commodity sectors during the next 50 years, says the FAO's The State of Food and Agriculture Report 2007.

  • The world's population is expected to increase by 50 per cent between 2000 and 2050, with the developing countries home to almost all of that growth. "Analyses indicate that there is likely to be sufficient overall food production at the global level to meet expected increases in effective demand", according to the FAO.

  • Crop production in developing countries will increase by 70 per cent over the next 30 years, says the FAO. Eighty per cent of this will come from more intensive production, and 20 per cent for further expansion of arable land. By 2030 an additional 120 million hectares, most in sub-Saharan Africa and South America - will be growing crops. Much of this will be cleared forest land.

  • Growing imports: FAO also point out that developing countries will become increasingly dependent on imports of cereals, which are expected to nearly triple to some 270 million tonnes by 2030. Most of this will have to come from traditional exporters in North America, Western Europe and Australia. The Near East and North Africa will continue to account for the bulk of imports - nearly 40 per cent.

  • Probably no one lives exclusively on imported food, although there are isolated cases such as small island states and isolated communities, where the food supply may predominantly be imported. On the whole, imported food constitutes approximately one-fifth of world food consumption. It contributes about 600 calories a day to the world's daily average of around 2800 calories per person. This is equivalent to food supply for about 1.2 billion people. (It is not equivalent to the number of people who depend on imported food for survival).

Cereal imports in developing countries are projected to more than double by 2030. Each region will show significant growth, with the Near East and North Africa continuing to account for the bulk of imports (nearly 40 per cent). Source: FAO.

  • AAgriculture accounts for 11 per cent of the value of all world exports. A quarter of Latin America's exports are agricultural, and 18 per cent of Africa's.

  • In 2006 the global area under genetically modified crops was 102 million hectares (252 million acres). The largest areas were devoted to cotton, soya, soy bean and rape seed. Most GM crops are growing in Argentina, Canada, China and the United States.

  • At present, the average per capita consumption of fish stands at 16 kilograms. It is likely to rise to 19-20 kilograms by 2030. As many of the world's fish stocks are already fished to capacity, or overfished, most of the increase will come from aquaculture.

  • As affluence rises in developing countries, more and more people want to eat meat. This, in turn, leads to more and more land being devoted to providing animal feed. In China the amount of grain used for animal feed in 1960 was less than 10 million tonnes. By the mid-1990s it had risen to over 95 million tonnes per year. World meat production, especially of pork and poultry, has been rapidly rising over the past half century.

  • Half of all our food is produced by women. In sub-Sahara Africa women provide 80 per cent of staple foods. In Asia, they perform 90 per cent of the work in rice paddies. Besides this, rural women are almost entirely responsible for the handling, storage, marketing and processing of food in many countries.
Fertilizing maize, Burkina Faso. Credit: FAO/D. Debert