On occasion I lower my guard and think about the future. I do not do this often. In fact, I try very hard not to do that at all. Not only do I find the exercise futile – there is no certainty in enthusiastic speculation – but I find very little evidence of anything positive predicted for the future. Although I love listening to the blues, I hate having them.
I flipped through the latest edition of National Geographic magazine and read an article on the future of the world’s food supplies. This led to a frenzy of Internet searches, a heightened state of anxiety, a tension headache and far to many drops of natural remedies (the stuff does not work believe me).
There is more than a reasonable chance that I would not live till 2050. If I do, I would be 83 years and spare change. I would, if predictions were correct, also wonder where my next meal would come from.
Take a minute and consider the following:
- By 2050 the world population would have increased with about 35% from 7 billion (2012) to 9.6 billion. More than half this growth will be in Sub-Saharan Africa where, as it is, one quarter of all people is currently undernourished.
- At this moment in time, agriculture – the production of crops and livestock – account for 38.6% of all human modified land on earth. Much of the land cleared in the tropics is used to produce cattle, feed for cattle, timber and palm oil. It does little for global food security. Some 850 million people still go hungry.
- Rising income levels in the developing world – notably India and China – has caused a shift in traditional diets away from plants to meat. As more people shift to meat-based diets, more crops are produced, not for human consumption, but as animal fodder. Only about 55% of all crops currently produced feed people directly. The rest is produced to feed animals (particularly cattle), produce biofuel or industrial products. By 2050 the increase in the per capita daily demand for protein will have increased by 103.6%. Nearly 70% of this would have been in the developing world.
- In Africa more than 70% of the crops calories grown are for human consumption. In the US Midwest, 82% of crop calories are used for feed and fuel. Yet the Africa’s small farms are deemed ineffective and most likely will be moving toward more mechanized systems with more reliance on fertilizer, higher yield GM seeds and pesticides.
- Nearly 50% of the world’s food weight is lost or wasted before it can be consumed. These losses occur mainly in supermarkets, restaurants and homes in the developed world. In the developing world, food is lost or wasted due to unreliable storage or transport.
Maybe knowing too much about your future is not such a good thing.
The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that for the 2013/14 consumption year, food insecurity among Namibian was on the increase and higher than the average of the past five years. According to their estimates approximately one-in-five (463,600) Namibians are currently severely food insecure.
Starting from here, where would our arid little nation be in 2050?
Will we still export most of our fish, mutton and beef?
Will we still import most of our coarse grains?
Will we still grant inefficient, local food manufacturing companies “infant industry protection” and the freedom to increase food prices at will?
Will we continue to tolerate “life-style” farming by the rich and wealthy; or continue to allow inefficient farmers to occupy precious agricultural land in the name of political retribution?
Will there still be “communal areas” and “subsistence farmers”?
Will our meat still be free range and will we still think high-yield, drought resistant GM grains are a bad idea?
Will we continue to proclaim more land for conservation, or will we decommission conservation areas for food production?
Just how will we feed our nation in 2050?
I have no idea; and I am one of the lucky ones. I am sure there will still be supermarket down the road.
I have the 2050 food blues and in a bad way.
Desperate times calls for delicious measures. So, I have baked some chocolate brownies. Not just any old brownies. No, chocolate brownies with some of the fresh goat milk cheese I made two weeks back. I know cheese and chocolate sounds strange but you do eat chocolate cheesecake don’t you?
In the words of a good friend: “Now, since I’d given up hope, I feel much better!”
 National Geographic, May 2014, Eat: The New Food Revolution.