The demand for world agriculture output will grow exponentially over coming decades due to world population growth and expanding world economies. At the same time, the agriculture sector will be impacted by changes in climate that will challenge the productivity of the world’s agriculture resources.
World population will continue to grow at a rapid rate. World population in 2010 was 6.9 billion people. By 2050 it is expected to grow to 9.3 billion people. This is a 35 percent increase in just 39 years or the addition of an average of 60 million people every year. For perspective this increase is equivalent to adding the population of the United States eight times to world population by 2050. The world’s agriculture resource base will be required to increase production to meet this increase.
In addition to population growth there has been an explosion of people moving out of poverty and into the middle class. This has occurred in several countries of the world but primarily in China and India that collectively make up over one-third of the world’s population. Rapid economic growth in these countries has resulted in increasing livings standards for a significant portion of their populations. As living standards increase, people’s diets change. Diets high in meat, which usually occurs as living standards improve, increase the demands on the agriculture sector because multiple pounds of feed are required to produce a pound of meat.
At the same time, millions of people in Africa and around the world remain in poverty. These people live in an environment of food insecurity where a weather event can quickly move them to a situation of food shortages. People in these regions are very sensitive to agricultural commodity price changes. They spend a much larger percentage of their incomes on food as compared to people in the developed world.
Climate change has begun to impact the agricultural landscape. The continuation of these changes due to rising greenhouse gases will challenge the agriculture sector to finds ways to maintain and improve productivity. Recent research has shown that climate change is already beginning to have a negative impact on global crop production levels. The research project, a collaborative effort by researchers at Stanford University, Columbia University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, examined the impact of climate change on the global production of maize, wheat, rice and soybeans from 1980 to 2008. These are the four largest commodity crops and represent roughly 75 percent of the calories that humans directly or indirectly consume. Access to the report can be found at Climate Trends and Global Crop Production since 1980.
The research is focused on temperature and precipitation changes over this period. A database of yield response models were developed to evaluate the impact of these climate trends on crop yields over the corresponding 1980 to 2008 time period. In addition, the positive yield impact of increased carbon dioxide levels was added to the analysis. Assessing the impact of past trends on agricultural crop yields will help project the impact of future trends on yields during coming decades. It will also help identify which agricultural regions will be impacted the most.