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Feeding the world…ehm…China?

By 2050, farmers around the world will need to produce at least 80% more meat and 52% more grain. These ”encouraging” facts have been brought to you by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In fact, they wrote a whole book about it. But where I read ‘world’ or ‘global’ I tend to think of ‘China’ But is this justified?

Let's first delve a little bit deeper into the IFPRI publication, which was released last week. The book addresses that we need more raw materials, to be able to produce more animal protein. It's no news that we are facing a growing demand for meat as a result of a growing world population. Everyone knows that by now. But what is interesting from the book, is that the authors named 11 agricultural practices and technologies for feeding the world's hungry. These strategies include breeding more heat-tolerant plants, producing plants that respond better to fertilisation and precision farming among others and are mainly focused on farmers in developing countries. There is much to gain! Heat-tolerant varieties of wheat for example could increase crop yields from a 17% increase to a 23% increase with irrigation.

What China wants
Feeding the world might therefore not so hard if we follow these 11 agricultural practices, mentioned above. But are we trying to feed the world or trying to feed the Chinese? I asked myself this question after another publication caught my eye this week; the report 'What China wants', published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. This report was presented last week at the ABARES Outlook conference in Canberra. Between 1970 and 2010 China's population grew from 0.8 billion to 1.37 billion. Since 2010, it was all eyes on China, as everyone thought they would rule the world and need all the food we produce. And most people still think of China as being the fastest growing country in the world. But less is true, a slower population growth of 0.3% is predicted between 2010 and 2030, before the population declines to about 1.38 billion by 2050.

China will be OK
Over a billion people in one country is still mind blowingly many! And more food is indeed needed as food consumption in China will be characterised by a move towards more western style diets, with higher intake of high-value foods, such as dairy products, beef, sheep and goat meat, fruit and vegetables, and lower intake of starchy staples toward 2050. Most of this demand will be met by domestic production in the future and by imports from other countries. I am sure that the Chinese farmers will also implement many of the 11 agricultural practices in the near future. In addition, this week the Chinese government introduced a series of restructuring to boost the Chinese economy. And they want to do this in a sustainable way by considering the environment and reducing smog! The efforts made by China to be more self-sufficient and the lower projected growth population in this country makes me realise that feeding China may not be so much an issue as I previously thought. They will be ok. So where I read 'world' or 'global' I may need to think of 'Africa' from now on...

4 comments

  • Katrina Cox

    My belief is that we will need more food to feed ALL countries by 2050, including the UK. If arable land is taken for housing, then we need to use technology to produce more food.

  • D J Fairweather

    I read with interest your article about feeding the world and China, but was amazed that nowhere in your article, or the Australian report (or book) there is a mention of aquaculture (fish farming).

    China is a massive producer and consumer of fish, and it is this area that seems to be growing the fastest. Aquaculture is also by far the most efficient animal protein producer so can’t understand why it has been ignored in these reports?

    Is aquaculture still seen as insignificant, or perhaps not part of agriculture?

    Kind regards, Dan

  • Emmy Koeleman

    Dear Dan, indeed! Aquaculture provides a substantial volume of fish for
    consumption, but to feed the world of 2050 it must produce
    more, more efficiently and with far less impact than
    today. Nutrreco has published this report about it: http://www.nutreco.com/Global/Nutreco%20corporate/Publications/Sustainability/2011/Nutreco%20Feeding%20the%20Future%20-%20Aquaculture%20booklet.pdf

  • liu caihong LIU

    I am from China. I think is the China's current need is ”quality“, as for the future, the world is concerned about “quantity”.

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