Feeding The World

Have you ever thought about how much food has to be produced to feed every single person in the world? It's a lot, and as our population keeps rising, even more food is going to need to be produced. Right now, there is enough food to feed everybody. However, not everyone has adequate access to enough (nutritious) food. But why? What are some solutions to the problems of feeding the world?

Feeding The World Feeding The World

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Table of contents

    Feeding the World Definition

    By 2050, the population of the world is predicted to reach 9.8 billion. With this ever-growing population, there needs to be enough food to feed the world. This means people need enough food to be food secure and that malnourishment and undernourishment cease to exist.

    Food Security: the condition of having enough affordable and nutritious food. Malnutrition occurs when people are imbalanced in their diet. Undernourishment means a person isn't getting enough nutrients.

    Feeding the world and meeting these standards isn't easy.

    The Balancing Act of Feeding the World

    Food is not distributed equally. There is a large divide between people who have too much food and people who simply don't have enough.

    Feeding the World Calorie Consumption Map StudySmarter

    Maps show calorie consumption differing dramatically around the world. If we look at average daily calorie needs (2500 calories for an average adult male), some people consume more calories than they need, and others don't eat enough.

    It's also important to take into account empty calories. Food may be filled with calories but contain little or no nutritional value. This means that some people can be malnourished while still consuming sufficient calories.

    This means there not only needs to be enough food, but also enough healthy food.

    Why do you think that more calories are consumed in the developed world, and fewer calories are consumed in the developing world? This is an essential question in AP Human Geography.

    Challenges of Feeding the World

    People face many barriers to acquiring food. Interestingly, though, there is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, and yet, roughly 829 million people globally still don't have enough food.1 So why on earth is there still so many without proper access to food?

    Food Insecurity

    Food insecurity is the opposite of food security. It occurs when people don't have sufficient access to nutritious and affordable food, and is caused by multiple factors.

    Feeding the World Food Insecurity Graph StudySmarterFig. 2 - a larger proportion of people were food insecure between 2014-2018 in Africa and Asia than in Europe or North America

    Poverty

    Poverty is one of the main causes of food insecurity: food costs money and if people can't afford to eat, food insecurity is more likely to occur. Those living in food deserts struggle to access healthy and nutritious food.

    Environment and Climate

    Environmental phenomena, such as natural disasters, can cause damage to food supplies. Climate change can also impact the success of crop growth, reducing food supplies. We'll explore more of this in the weather section.

    Politics and the Economy

    Politics can also be a cause of food insecurity. Conflicts or corruption can reduce people's access to food. For example, people may be forced to flee a war-torn area; they become internally-displaced persons or refugees who may not be able to access food as easily. Economic turmoil is another example; during times of economic uncertainty, food prices often rise, and people can afford less food as a consequence.

    Other political difficulties can also result in problems with food access. The Irish Potato Famine in the 19th century is a perfect example. Much of the land in Ireland was owned by the British, meaning that crops were grown by Irish farmers on rented British land. The blight hit (a disease), damaging huge amounts of the potato crops being grown. Because the land was owned by the British, there was no food left to eat, resulting in mass starvation.

    Weaponization

    Food can often be used as a weapon in harsh political regimes. Starvation can often be used as a war tactic or weapon of war to starve local populations or armies. The Nazi Hunger Plan offers a prominent example, or more recently, in the Syrian war.

    Neoliberalism

    Many developing countries export plantation crops and other products that are grown on agricultural soil. They rely on earnings from these exports to purchase food on the international market, according to the wisdom of neoliberal economic models. In ideal conditions, their exports earn plenty of money and they can buy food, but if a disaster such as a storm or a disease hits the export crop, or the price of the export crop internationally plummets, the country is left without exchange earnings to buy food. Since productive farmland is taken up for export crops, the country cannot feed itself.

    Food for Cattle and Land for Non-Food Crops

    Much precious energy is used to grow grains for cattle; if that same land were used to grow grains for people, or grow other crops, less energy would be required, and more affordable food for people would be the result. In addition, much land that could be used for food is used for fiber crops, biofuels, and other uses.

    Food Deserts

    Food deserts are communities that suffer from a lack of healthy food, either because it isn't available or it's too expensive. Within a food desert, high rates of food insecurity are more likely to occur. Particularly in the US, food deserts are most often found in impoverished areas. Some of the main causes of food deserts are:

    • Low income - not having enough money to afford higher quality and healthier foods.

    • Lack of transport - not having a car or access to adequate public transport means people are unable to get to a supermarket. Food deserts are often further away from supermarkets or there are generally fewer in the area. Supermarket chains are often less attracted to putting stores in high-poverty areas.

    • Convenience stores are usually more accessible but tend to sell less healthy food.

    • Racial segregation - food deserts often disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic, and Native American populations.

    • Gentrification - this can make stores and food generally more expensive and unaffordable.

    Some scholars and activists believe that the word desert isn't appropriate, as it refers to a kind of barren wasteland. Because of the way that these food deserts affect Black, Hispanic, and Native American populations, some people prefer to use the term food apartheid2 to emphasize how certain communities are more affected by food poverty than others, because of historical and current racial segregation. ("Apartheid" refers to the separation or segregation of particular groups of people, most famously seen in the South African apartheid in the 1990s.)

    Food Distribution Systems

    Food is transported all over the world. A product grown in Spain could end up on a plate in Seattle. Through methods like cold storage vehicles, food can be transported long distances, allowing it to reach people who need it, as well as allowing people to have seasonal food all year. But food distribution systems can experience some challenges that affect the success of food distribution around the globe:

    • Sometimes, storage units can fail, meaning potentially spoiled food needs to be thrown away.

    • Nodes of food distribution networks are spread across the planet, making the overall system vulnerable to problems.

    • These systems can be impacted by bad weather, pandemics, or economic stresses.

    • When there are changes in demand for certain foods, this can put pressure on distribution systems.

    Weather

    Rain and wind cause agricultural land loss from increased erosion of top soils. Droughts, floods, and other meteorological phenomena damage crop production and reduce output. With climate change and global warming, weather events such as droughts or flooding are predicted to become more common. Extreme events such as hurricanes or tornadoes can damage crop production as well as impact transport and distribution.

    As a result of the above, the overall price of food may rise and certain foods become unaffordable for many.

    Feeding the World Hurricane Flooding StudySmarterFig. 3 - how might flooding caused by hurricanes cause problems in the food chain?

    Land Use Changes

    The way land use is changing is also one of the challenges in feeding our world. Agricultural land loss is occurring for many different reasons, from road building to increased suburbanization.

    Suburbanization: the expansion of cities into rural areas.

    This expansion of areas outside the city is called urban sprawl. Urban sprawl has a direct impact on agricultural land loss, by taking land that could otherwise be used for agriculture and food production.

    Solutions to Feeding the World in 2050

    Given all the factors that challenge feeding our world, it may prove difficult to reduce food insecurity, especially with the population growth predictions for 2050. To feed the population by 2050, food production needs to increase by 60%, but doing so by current methods would be extremely damaging.3 Let's take a look at some of the alternatives.

    • Reducing food insecurity by improving development and decreasing poverty levels, and providing support or aid to those countries most severely affected by food insecurity.

    • Reducing the existence of food deserts by increasing access to fresh foods, encouraging things like community gardens, bettering public transport, and reducing convenience food stores in impoverished areas.

    • Helping food distribution systems become more resilient by improving storage and transport technologies or encouraging people to shop more locally or seasonally, to reduce reliance on international distribution systems.

    • Preparing for climate change, by managing soil and water, conserving water, and growing crops that are resilient to climate change, for example. With climate change uncertainty, the increase or decrease of land for agriculture is unknown.

    • To deal with land loss: adopting methods to grow more food without the use of lots of land is vital, like crops that take up less space, or growing crops vertically. Much of our arable land is used to grow crops for animal fodder, rather than for human consumption; using this land for human consumption would help with increasing food.

    • Food waste is a large problem, particularly in China and the US; changing attitudes towards wasting food, as well as changing labeling laws, could help to reduce the huge amounts of food that are thrown away.

    • Initiating alternative food movements, to ensure producers and consumers have control over food systems, to ensure food is equally accessed by all. Urban farming initiatives, like French intensive gardening, are a great example; here, crops are grown using smaller amounts of space.

    United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

    The United Nations set out its plan to help to improve global development without damaging the environment and causing harm to future generations. To achieve this, the organization produced 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero hunger, aims to

    End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.4

    Feeding the World - Key takeaways

    • The human population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, so it will become vital that enough food be produced to feed us.

    • There is uneven access to food globally: some areas have too much food, others not enough, though there is enough food to feed everyone.

    • There are many challenges associated with feeding the world, such as food insecurity, food deserts, food distribution system difficulties, poor weather, and land loss.

    • Solutions to these problems will become vital to meet our rising population's needs sustainably.


    References

    1. Action Against Hunger, World Hunger: Key Facts and Statistics, 2022, https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/world-hunger-facts-statistics#:~:text=There%20is%20more%20than%20enough,to%20bed%20hungry%20each%20night.
    2. Yasamin Shaker et al, 2022, Redlining, racism and food access in US urban cores, Agriculture and Human Values, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10460-022-10340-3
    3. UN Chronicle, Feeding the World Sustainably, 2012, https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/feeding-world-sustainably
    4. United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development, 2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal2
    5. Fig 2, food insecurity graph, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Number-of-severely-food-insecure-people-by-region.png), by Ourworldindata (https://ourworldindata.org/search?q=Food+insecurity), Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)
    6. Fig 3, flooding from Hurricane Ida, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hurricane_Ida_flooding_in_Wilmington,_September_2,_2021_(cropped).jpg), by The National Guard (https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenationalguard/), Licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Feeding The World

    Why is feeding the world important?

    Feeding the world is important to ensure food insecurity goes down, especially as our population is rising. 

    Do we have enough land to feed the world?

    No, especially when food production will need to increase by 60% to feed our world. 

    What can we do to feed the world?

    Many strategies can be adopted to help to feed the world, by reducing food insecurity and food deserts, improving the resilience of food distribution systems, preparing for climate change, and finding ways to produce food without using so much land. 

    Which countries feed the world?

    Food is transported all over the world, and different parts of the food distribution systems can be spread globally.

    What are the challenges of feeding the world?

    The challenges of feeding the world include food insecurity, food deserts, food distribution system issues, weather problems, and land loss.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following are a cause of food insecurity?

    By 2050, what is the population predicted to reach?

    Food security is _____.

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