Global Food Security 

Nearly 1 in 8 of the world’s population were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012, almost all in developing countries. As the global population expands, production of food must increase by at least 50% by 2050, even to maintain the status quo. However, this increase in agricultural production must be realised in the face of a number of severe constraints. Increased productivity must be achieved using less agricultural land, which is declining due to urbanisation, less water (in Europe a third of water is used by the agricultural sector), and fewer inputs. For example, to be self-sufficient, China must grow food for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, with access to just 6% of the world’s fresh water and 7% of the world’s arable land.  Some nutrient resources, such as rock phosphate, are largely non-renewable and will run out by the end of the century, whereas nitrogenous fertilisers require large amounts of energy to manufacture (2 tonnes of oil per tonne of fertiliser, leading to greenhouse gas emissions) and will be used increasingly in the developing world. Pollution from increased use of fertilisers and pesticides also impacts on water quality. Set against this background, there is an increasing demand for land to grow biofuels and an increased dietary demand for animal protein, especially in the developing world. Biofuels are already competing with crops for food use. In the USA 40% of the maize crop is used for biofuels. Another 40% of the maize crop is used for animal feed. Between 4 and 8kg of grains in animal feed are needed to produce 1kg of meat. In Brazil, an area the size of all the agricultural land in Switzerland is used to grow soybeans to feed Swiss livestock. As urbanisation increases in developing countries, labour for agriculture will decrease, for example, in 1978, less than a fifth of China's population lived in cities. By 2020, that proportion will be 60 per cent. In addition, climate change will lead to events such as high temperatures and droughts restricting agricultural production in many areas.

Food Security Requires a Second Green Revolution

The Green Revolution resulted from the creation of genetically improved crop varieties (by breeding rather than by genetic modification), and improved agronomic practices. Thus while it took 10,000 years for food grain production to reach 1 billion tons in 1960, it took only another 40 years to reach 2 billion tons in 2000. The Green Revolution not only resulted in more food, but also cheaper food. To enable agricultural production to meet the requirements of an expanding global population, a 50% increase in crop yields in 40 years requires a compound rate of increase of about 1% per annum. However, it is clear that far from continuously increasing crop yields, the rate of growth of yield increase is slowing (very obviously for wheat yields in Northern Europe, but also for other grain crops such as rice and maize) and that a second Green Revolution is required. One way of doing this is to improve the photosynthetic efficiency of crop plants.

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