Although the world's agricultural population grew only marginally in recent decades, global agricultural output increased dramatically. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global net agricultural production increased by 112 percent between 1980 and 2011. The world's net per capita production of agricultural goods increased by 35 percent during this period, averting food security crises in many places.
Although productivity gains have enabled farmers to meet the growing demand for food, the methods used to achieve such gains have come with unintended consequences, including soil degradation, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and depleted freshwater supplies. Short-term production gains achieved by overusing chemical pesticides and fertilizers have, as a result, reduced the sector's long-term resilience to climate change.
The FAO estimates that the global agricultural population will decline by 0.7 percent and that the nonagricultural population will grow by 16 percent between 2011 and 2020. The organization also estimates that feeding a population projected to reach 9.1 billion in 2050 will require raising overall food production by some 70 percent between 2005/07 and 2050.
"To address this challenge while promoting resilience to climate change and avoiding environmental degradation, farmers, governments, and the private sector could consider investing in agroecological approaches to farming -- such as integrated pest management, no-till farming, cover cropping, and agroforestry," said Sophie Wenzlau, the trend's author. "Policies encouraging the conversion of land from biofuels and livestock feed production to food production could also play a role in sustainably increasing the human food supply."
Further highlights from the report:
- Between 1980 and 2011, Africa's agricultural population grew by 63 percent, and its nonagricultural population grew by 221 percent.
- Oceania's agricultural population grew by 49 percent, and its nonagricultural population grew by 65 percent.
- Asia's agricultural population grew by 20 percent, and its nonagricultural population grew by 134 percent.
- The combination of movement to cities and agricultural consolidation caused agricultural populations to decline in Europe and the Americas between 1980 and 2011: by 66 percent in Europe, 45 percent in North America, 35 percent in South America, 13 percent in Central America, and 7 percent in the Caribbean.