Politics stand in the way of feeding a growing population

September 29, 2011

The world’s population is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, up from 6.7 billion today. How will we be able to ensure food security for the growing world population? An article in The Wall Street Journal examines some of the political decisions that are holding us back from meeting that goal.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman and former CEO of Nestlé, explains that the link between the food market and energy market is a lot closer than most people imagine. Increasingly crops formerly grown for food or livestock feed are being grown for fuel. In fact, this year, for the first time, American farmers will harvest more corn for ethanol than for feed. While for those in developed countries this might be a mere annoyance, driving our breakfast cereal prices up a little, for those in third-world countries who spend 80% of their disposable income on food, this means millions go hungry, noted Brabeck-Letmathe in The Wall Street Journal article.

The fear of genetically modified crops is another policy decision that, according to Brabeck-Letmathe, is holding us back. He believes the refusal to use "available technology" in agriculture has stopped the multi-decade rise in agricultural productivity that has allowed us to feed more mouths than many people believed possible. Those countries using GMOs see a yield per hectare that has increased by about 30% over the past few years; the same cannot be said for non-GMO crops.

In addition to the political decisions being made, there is a demographic change taking place. Over the last few decades, millions of consumers have moved from extreme poverty into the moderate middle class. This has given them access to new foods, such as meat. This has put more stress on the world’s resources. According to Brabeck-Letmathe, you need 10 times as much land, 10 times as much feed, and 10 times as much water to produce one calorie of meat as you do to have one calorie of vegetables or grains. Despite this, Brabeck-Letmathe believes we are capable of meeting this demand, but only if politicians decide to stop using food for fuel.

The Wall Street Journal article

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