Will we run out of food?

It's the year 2050.  Earth's population has just passed 9.5 billion and it's still climbing.  Africa's population has quadrupled, and global food demand is now twice what it was in 2014. 

Will there be enough food for everyone?

Food for today, but what about tomorrow? (photo by William Laurance)

Food for today, but what about tomorrow? (photo by William Laurance)

As daunting as it sounds, that is the reality we'll soon be facing, according to demographers and food-security experts.  And it gets worse.

To feed our burgeoning populace, we'll need to turbocharge agriculture--transforming vast areas of relatively unproductive smallholder farms to bigger, more efficient, industrial-style farms.

But modern farms demand a great deal of energy, and energy prices will surely rise in future.  As energy prices go up, food prices will go up.

Worldwide, billions of people already devote much of their income to food.  What will happen if food prices rise sharply--perhaps doubling?

That's the focus of an essay by ALERT director Bill Laurance, which just appeared in Ensia Magazine

Entitled "Food + Energy = Crisis?", it asks tough questions about the future--and has two urgent implications for how we manage our world today.

Agriculture will massively impact the tropics

In a review article that has just appeared in the leading journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, I teamed up with Jeff Sayer and Ken Cassman to assess the impacts of agriculture this century on tropical ecosystems and biodiversity.  It's quite a sweeping review with many important conclusions.

Oil palm: highly profitable and often deadly for tropical forests (photo by Niels Anten).

Oil palm: highly profitable and often deadly for tropical forests (photo by Niels Anten).

Among the biggest concerns are:

- Prospects for dramatic expansion of agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America

- Great uncertainty in the amount of land that will be converted to agriculture, in order to meet growing global food demands

-The prospects that biofuel production could also impact greatly on native ecosystems and also compete with agriculture

- The likelihood of massive environmental impacts on freshwater ecosystems and water supplies

- Profound challenges ahead in producing enough food to feed the world

Those who wish to have a PDF of the paper can email me directly (bill.laurance@jcu.edu.au).

-Bill Laurance