Future of World Agriculture

In recent years the growth rates of world agricultural production and crop yields have slowed. This has raised fears that the world may not be able to grow enough food and other commodities to ensure that future populations are adequately fed.

However, the slowdown has occurred not because of shortages of land or water but rather because demand for agricultural products has also slowed. This is mainly because world population growth rates have been declining since the late 1960s, and fairly high levels of food consumption per person are now being reached in many countries, beyond which further rises will be limited. But it is also the case that a stubbornly high share of the world's population remains in absolute poverty and so lacks the necessary income to translate its needs into effective demand.

As a result, the growth in world demand for agricultural products is expected to fall from an average 2.2 percent a year over the past 30 years to 1.5 percent a year for the next 30. In developing countries the slowdown will be more dramatic, from 3.7 percent to 2 percent, partly as a result of China having passed the phase of rapid growth in its demand for food.

This study suggests that world agricultural production can grow in line with demand, provided that the necessary national and international policies to promote agriculture are put in place. Global shortages are unlikely, but serious problems already exist at national and local levels and may worsen unless focused efforts are made.


Food and nutrition

Massive strides have been made in improving food security. The proportion of people living in developing countries with average food intakes below 2 200 kcal per day fell from 57 percent in 1964-66 to just 10 percent in 1997-99. Yet 776 million people in developing countries remain undernourished -about one person in six.

Global progress in nutrition is expected to continue, in parallel with a reduction in poverty as projected by the World Bank. The incidence of under-nourishment should fall from 17 percent of the population of developing countries at present to 11 percent in 2015 and just 6 percent in 2030. By 2030, three-quarters of the population of the developing world could be living in countries where less than 5 percent of people are undernourished. Less than 8 percent live in such countries at present.

Despite impressive reductions in the proportion of undernourished, continuing population growth means that progress in reducing the total number will be slower. The World Food Summit of 1996 set a target of halving the number of undernourished people to about 410 million by 2015. This study's projections suggest that this may be difficult to achieve: some 610 million people could still be undernourished in that year, and even by 2030 about 440 million undernourished may remain. Priority for local food production and reduced inequality of access to food could improve this performance. The problem of undernourishment will tend to become more tractable and easier to address through policy interventions, both national and international, as the number of countries with high incidence declines.

Agriculture, poverty and international trade

Undernourishment is a central manifestation of poverty. It also deepens other aspects of poverty, by reducing the capacity for work and resistance to disease, and by affecting children's mental development and educational achievements.

Currently, one in four people in developing countries are living in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than US$1 a day. This proportion is down from almost one-third in 1990. But because of population growth the fall in numbers has been slower, from 1269 million to 1134 million. The latest World Bank assessment to 2015 suggests that such reductions in global poverty could continue. Sub-Saharan Africa is the exception, however. Here the numbers of poor rose steeply during the 1990s and seem likely to continue to do so. Seven out of ten of the world's poor still live in rural areas. Growth in the agricultural sector has a crucial role to play in improving the incomes of poor people, by providing farm jobs and stimulating off-farm employment. Some direct nutritional interventions may also be needed - such as vitamin and mineral supplementation of basic foods - while health, water and sanitation measures to reduce the effects of illness on food absorption will also be important.

Trade has an important role to play in improving food security and fostering agriculture. Some estimates put the potential annual increase in global welfare from freer trade in agriculture as high as US$165 billion. But the progress made in the current round of trade negotiations has been limited and the benefits so far remain modest. If future reforms focus too narrowly on the removal of subsidies in the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), most of the gains will probably be reaped by consumers in developed countries. Developing countries should benefit more from the removal of trade barriers for products in which they have a comparative advantage (such as sugar, fruits and vegetables), from reduced tariffs for processed agricultural commodities, and from deeper preferential access to markets for the least developed countries.

Internal reforms are also needed within developing countries if free trade is to contribute to poverty reduction. Such reforms include: a reduction of the bias against agriculture in national policy making; the opening of borders for long-term foreign investments; the introduction of schemes to improve food quality and safety; investments in roads, irrigation, seeds and skills; improved quality standards; and safety nets for the poor who face higher food prices.

Globalization in food and agriculture holds promise as well as presenting problems. It has generally led to progress in reducing poverty in Asia. But it has also led to the rise of multinational food companies with the potential to disempower farmers in many countries. Developing countries need the legal and administrative frameworks to ward off the threats while reaping the benefits.

Crop production

The annual growth rate of world demand for cereals has declined from 2.5 percent a year in the 1970s and 1.9 percent a year in the 1980s to only 1 percent a year in the 1990s. Annual cereal use per person (including animal feeds) peaked in the mid-1980s at 334 kg and has since fallen to 317 kg.

 The decline is not cause for alarm: it was above all the natural result of slower population growth and shifts in human diets and animal feeds. However, in the 1990s it was accentuated by a number of temporary factors, including serious recessions in the transition countries and some East and Southeast Asian countries.

 The growth rate of demand for cereals is expected to rise again to 1.4 percent a year to 2015, slowing to 1.2 percent per year thereafter. In developing countries overall, cereal production is not expected to keep pace with demand. The net cereal deficits of these countries, which amounted to 103 million tonnes or 9 percent of consumption in 1997-99, could rise to 265 million tonnes by 2030, when they will be 14 percent of consumption. This gap can be bridged by increased surpluses from traditional grain exporters, and by new exports from the transition countries, which are expected to shift from being net importers to being net exporters.

 Oilcrops have seen the fastest increase in area of any crop sector, ex-panding by 75 million ha from the mid-1970s until the end of the 1990s, while cereal area fell by 28 million ha over the same period. Future per capita consumption of oilcrops is expected to rise more rapidly than that of cereals. These crops will account for 45 out of every 100 extra kilocalories added to average diets in developing countries between now and 2030. 

Sources of growth in crop production

There are three main sources of growth in crop production: expanding the land area, increasing the frequency with which it is cropped (often through irrigation), and boosting yields. It has been suggested that we may be approaching the ceiling of what is possible for all three sources. 

A detailed examination of production potentials does not support this view at the global level, although in some countries, and even in whole regions, serious problems already exist and could deepen.

Land.Less new agricultural land will be opened up than in the past. In the coming 30 years, developing countries will need an extra 120 million ha for crops, an overall increase of 12.5 percent. This is only half the rate of increase observed between 1961-63 and 1997-99.

At global level there is adequate unused potential farmland. A comparison of soils, terrains and climates with the needs of major crops suggests that an extra 2.8 billion ha are suitable in varying degrees for the rainfed production of arable and permanent crops. This is almost twice as much as is currently farmed. However, only a fraction of this extra land is realistically available for agricultural expansion in the foreseeable future, as much is needed to preserve forest cover and to support infrastructural development. Access-ibility and other constraints also stand in the way of any substantial expansion.

More than half the land that could be opened up is in just seven countries of tropical Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, whereas other regions and countries face a shortage of suitable land. In the Near East and North Africa, 87 percent of suitable land was already being farmed in 1997-99, while in South Asia the figure is no less than 94 percent. In these regions, intensification through improved management and technologies will be the main, indeed virtually the only, source of production growth. In many places land degradation threatens the productivity of existing farmland and pasture. 

Water.Irrigation is crucial to the world's food supplies. In 1997-99, irrigated land made up only about one-fifth of the total arable area in developing countries but produced two-fifths of all crops and close to three-fifths of cereal production.

The role of irrigation is expected to increase still further. The developing countries as a whole are likely to expand their irrigated area from 202 million ha in 1997-99 to 242 million ha by 2030. Most of this expansion will occur in land-scarce areas where irrigation is already crucial.

The net increase in irrigated land is predicted to be less than 40 percent of that achieved since the early 1960s. There appears to be enough unused irrigable land to meet future needs: FAO studies suggest a total irrigation potential of some 402 million ha in developing countries, of which only half is currently in use. However, water resources will be a major factor constraining expansion in South Asia, which will be using 41 percent of its renewable freshwater resources by 2030, and in the Near East and North Africa, which will be using 58 percent. These regions will need to achieve greater efficiency in water use.

Yields.In the past four decades, rising yields accounted for about 70 percent of the increase in crop production in the developing countries. The 1990s saw a slowdown in the growth of yields. Wheat yields, for example, grew at an average 3.8 percent a year between 1961 and 1989, but at only 2 percent a year between 1989 and 1999. For rice the respective rates fell by more than half, from 2.3 percent to 1.1 percent.

Yield growth will continue to be the dominant factor underlying increases in crop production in the future. In developing countries, it will account for about 70 percent of growth in crop production to 2030. To meet production projections, future yield growth will not need to be as rapid as in the past. For wheat yields, an annual rise of only 1.2 percent a year is needed over the next 30 years. The picture for other crops is similar. Growth in fertilizer use in developing countries is expected to slow to 1.1 percent per year over the next three decades, a continuation of the slowdown already under way.

Overall, it is estimated that some 80 percent of future increases in crop production in developing countries will have to come from intensification: higher yields, increased multiple cropping and shorter fallow periods.

Improved technology

New technology is needed for areas with shortages of land or water, or with particular problems of soil or climate. These are frequently areas with a high concentration of poor people, where such technology could play a key role in improving food security.

Agricultural production could probably meet expected demand over the period to 2030 even without major advances in modern biotechnology. However, the new techniques of molecular analysis could give a welcome boost to productivity, particularly in areas with special difficulties, thereby improving the incomes of the poor, just as the green revolution did in large parts of Asia during the 1960s to 1980s. 

Needed for the twenty-first century is a second, doubly green revolution in agricultural technology. Productivity increases are still vital, but must be combined with environmental protection or restoration, while new technologies must be both affordable by, and geared to the needs of, the poor and undernourished.

Biotechnology offers promise as a means of improving food security and reducing pressures on the environment, provided the perceived environ-mental threats from biotechnology itself are addressed. Genetically modified crop varieties - resistant to drought, water-logging, soil acidity, salinity and extreme temperatures - could help to sustain farming in marginal areas and to restore degraded lands to production. Pest-resistant varieties can reduce the need for pesticides.

However, the widespread use of genetically modified varieties will depend on whether or not food safety and environmental concerns can be adequately addressed. Indeed, the spread of these varieties, in the developed countries at least, has recently slowed somewhat in response to these concerns, which must be addressed through improved testing and safety protocols if progress is to resume.

Meanwhile, other promising technologies have emerged that combine in-creased production with improved environmental protection. These include no-till or conservation agriculture, and the lower-input approaches of integrated pest or nutrient management and organic agriculture.


Diets in developing countries are changing as incomes rise. The share of staples, such as cereals, roots and tubers, is declining, while that of meat, dairy products and oil crops is rising.

Between 1964-66 and 1997-99, per capita meat consumption in developing countries rose by 150 percent, and that of milk and dairy products by 60 percent. By 2030, per capita consumption of livestock products could rise by a further 44 percent. As in the past, poultry consumption will grow fastest.

Productivity improvements are likely to be a major source of growth. Milk yields should improve, while breeding and improved management will increase average carcass weights and off-take rates. This will allow increased production with lower growth in animal numbers, and a corresponding slowdown in the growth of environmental damage from grazing or wastes.

In developing countries, demand will grow faster than production, producing a growing trade deficit. In meat products this will rise steeply, from 1.2 million tonnes a year in 1997-99 to 5.9 million tonnes in 2030 (despite growing meat exports from Latin America), while in milk and dairy products the rise will be less steep but still considerable, from 20 million to 39 million tonnes a year.

An increasing share of livestock production will probably come from industrial enterprises. In recent years production from this sector has grown twice as fast as that from more traditional mixed farming systems and more than six times faster than from grazing systems.


During the 1990s the world's total forest area shrank by 9.4 million ha - about three times the size of Belgium - each year. However, the rate of deforestation was slower in the 1990s than in the 1980s. Industrial and transition countries expanded their forest areas, and many developing countries - including Bangladesh, China, India, Turkey and Viet Nam - are now planting more forest area than they cut.

The crop projections suggest that cropland will need to expand by an extra 120 million ha by 2030, while urban land areas will continue to grow by a considerable amount. Much of this extra land will have to come from forest clearance. In addition, by 2030 annual world consumption of industrial round-wood is expected to rise by 60 percent over current levels, to around 2 400 million m3.

Even so, deforestation is expected to slow further in the coming decades and the world is unlikely to face a wood supply crisis. Production of wood-based materials is continually increasing in efficiency. The area of plantations is also growing rapidly: production of industrial round-wood from plantations is expected to double by 2030, from 400 million m3 today, to around 800 million m3. In addition, a big increase in tree-growing outside forests and plantations - along roads, in towns, around homes and on farms - will boost the supply of wood and other tree products 

The central challenges for the forestry sector are to find ways of managing natural and cultivated tree resources so as to increase production, improve the food security and energy supply of the poor, and safeguard the environ-mental services and biodiversity provided by forests.


World fisheries production has kept ahead of population growth over the past three decades. Total fish production almost doubled, from 65 million tonnes in 1970 to 125 million tonnes in 1999, when world average intake of fish, crustaceans and molluscs reached 16.3 kg per person. By 2030, annual fish consumption is likely to rise to some 150 to160 million tonnes, or between 19 and 20 kg per person.

This amount is significantly lower than the potential demand, because environmental factors are expected to limit supply. By the turn of the century, three-quarters of ocean fish stocks were overfished, depleted or exploited up to their maximum sustainable yield. Further growth in the marine catch can be only modest. During the 1990s the marine catch levelled out at 80 to 85 million tonnes a year, not far from its maximum sustainable yield.

Aquaculture compensated for this marine slowdown, doubling its share of world fish production during the 1990s. It will continue to grow rapidly, at rates of 5 to 7 percent a year up to 2015. In all sectors of fishing it will be essential to pursue forms of management conducive to sustainable exploitation, especially for resources under common ownership or no ownership.

Environment and Climate

Over the next 30 years, many of the environmental problems associated with agriculture will remain serious. Loss of biodiversity caused by the expansion and intensification of production often continues unabated even in the developed countries, where nature is highly valued and, supposedly, protected.

Nitrogen fertilizers are a major source of water and air pollution. The crop projections imply slower growth in the use of these fertilizers than in the past, but the increase could still be significant for pollution. Projections also suggest a 60 percent increase in emissions of ammonia and methane from the livestock sector. Comprehensive measures will be needed to control and reduce air and water pollution from these sources 

Global warming is not expected to depress food availability at the global level, but at the regional and local levels there may be significant impacts. Current projections suggest that the potential for crop production will increase in temperate and northerly latitudes, while in parts of the tropics and subtropics it may decline. This may further deepen the dependence of developing countries on food imports, though at the same time it may improve the ability of temperate exporters to fill the gap. Rising sea levels will threaten crop production and livelihoods in countries with large areas of low-lying land, such as Bangladesh and Egypt.

Food insecurity for some vulnerable rural groups in developing countries may well worsen. By 2030, climate change is projected to depress cereal production in Africa by 2 to 3 percent. Improved seeds and increased fertilizer use should more than compensate, but this factor will still weigh heavily on efforts to make progress.

Forestry and agriculture both contribute to human impact on climate. The burning of biomass - in deforestation, savannah fires, the disposal of crop residues and cooking with firewood or dung - is a major source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while fertilizers and animal wastes create large emissions of nitrous oxide and ammonia.

Forestry can help to soak up some of the carbon released by human activities. Between 1995 and 2050, slower deforestation, together with regeneration and plantation development, could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 12 to 15 percent of all fossil fuel emissions.

Farming also has a positive role to play. By 2030 the amount of carbon locked up in cropland soils, as soil organic matter from crop residues and manure, could rise by 50 percent if better management practices are introduced.

The outlook for agriculture

So far, world agriculture has been able to respond to the rising demand for crop and livestock products. Although the world's population doubled between 1960 and 2000 and levels of nutrition improved markedly, the prices of rice, wheat and maize - the world's major food staples - fell by around 60 percent. The fall in prices indicates that, globally, supplies not only kept pace with demand, but even outstripped it. Although global demand for agricultural products has continued to rise, it has done so less rapidly in recent decades. Between 1969 and 1989 demand grew at an average of 2.4 percent a year, but this fell to only 2 percent in the decade from 1989. Apart from temporary factors (foremost among them a decline in consumption in the transition economies in the 1990s), there were two more enduring reasons for the slowdown: The growth rate of world population peaked in the late 1960s at 2 percent a year and slowed thereafter. A rising proportion of the world's population had reached fairly high levels of food consumption, so the scope for further increase was limited. By 1997-99, 61 percent of the world's population were living in countries where average food consumption per person was above 2 700 kcal per day.

Demand for agricultural products will continue to grow more slowly

These factors will continue to influence trends in demand over the next three decades. For example, world population will go on rising, but less rapidly, growing at an average of 1.1 percent a year up to 2030, compared with 1.7 percent a year over the past 30 years.

By 1997-99, 61 percent of the world's population were living in countries where average food consumption per person was above 2 700 kcal per day.

As a result, future demand for agricultural products is expected to slow further - to 1.6 percent a year for the period 1997-99 to 2015 and to 1.4 percent for 2015 to 2030. In developing countries the slowdown will be more dramatic, from 3.7 percent for the past 30 years to an average 2 percent for the next 30.

The forces underlying this slowdown can be seen in the example of China, which has been one of the major engines of growth in the demand for food and agricultural products in the world and in the developing countries over the past few decades. By 1997-99 the Chinese had reached an average daily food consumption of 3 040 kcal - only 10 percent short of the level in industrial countries. Over the next three decades the country's aggregate food consumption is expected to grow at only a quarter of the rate seen in the past three decades, while its population will grow at a third of its past rate. Given the sheer size of China's population, these shifts alone will have a huge effect on the global situation. Many other countries, including some of the largest ones, will be undergoing very similar shifts that will further lower the growth of demand.

India's daily average food energy intake per person is still below 2 500 kcal, a level at which there is considerable scope for further increases, while her population will be growing at an average of over 1 percent a year over the next 30 years. Could India take over China's role as a major engine of growth in world agricultural demand? This is not expected, because India's cultural traditions favour vegetarianism, which will hold back the country's demand for meat and animal feeds at rates well below those seen in China.

Agricultural trade deficits of developing countries will worsen

Traditionally, the developing countries as a whole have had a net surplus in agricultural trade. In value terms this peaked at US$17.5 billion in 1977. The trend since then has been for their imports to grow faster than their exports. The agricultural trade balance of the developing countries has gradually dwindled until, by the mid-1990s, it was more often negative than positive. The highest recorded deficit was US$6 billion, in 1996.

This overall trend masks a complex picture which varies from one commodity to another and from one country to another. The drastic decline in developing countries' net surplus in sugar, oilseeds and vegetable oils, for example, reflects growing consumption and imports in several developing countries and the effects of protectionist policies in the major industrial countries. For commodities produced almost entirely in developing countries and consumed predominantly in the industrial countries, such as coffee and cocoa, slow growth in demand prevented the trade balance of the developing countries from improving. Fluctuating and, on balance, declining prices further contributed to the problem.

The projections to 2030 show the agricultural trade deficit of developing countries growing still further. In particular, net imports of cereals and livestock products will continue to rise quite rapidly.

Production will keep pace with demand, but food insecurity will persist

Detailed analysis shows that, globally, there is enough land, soil and water, and enough potential for further growth in yields, to make the necessary production feasible. Yield growth will be slower than in the past, but at the global level this is not necessarily cause for alarm because slower growth in production is needed in the future than in the past. However, the feasible can only become the actual if the policy environment is favourable towards agriculture.

Globally, producers have satisfied effective market demand in the past, and there is every likelihood that they will continue to do so. But effective demand does not represent the total need for food and other agricultural products, because hundreds of millions of people lack the money to buy what they need or the resources to produce it themselves.

Thus, even if there is sufficient potential for production in the world as a whole, there will still be problems of food security at the household or national level. In urban areas, food insecurity usually reflects low incomes, but in poor rural areas it is often inseparable from problems affecting food production. In many areas of the developing world, the majority of people still depend on local agriculture for food and/or livelihoods but the potential of local resources to support further increases in production is very limited, at least under existing technological conditions. Examples are semi-arid areas and areas with problem soils.

In such areas agriculture must be developed through support for agricultural research and extension and the provision of credit and infrastructure, while other income-earning opportunities are created. If this is not done, local food insecurity will remain widespread, even in the midst of global plenty.

Prospects for food and nutrition

Progress in improving nutrition has been significant

Freedom from hunger is not only a basic human right: it is essential for the full enjoyment of other rights, such as health, education and work, and everything that flows from these.

The world has made significant progress in raising nutrition levels over the past three decades. These levels are most commonly measured in terms of kilocalories per person per day. People in developing countries need between 1 720 and 1 960 kcal per day for basal metabolism and light activity.

World average food consumption per person has risen by almost a fifth, from 2 360 kcal per person per day in the mid-1960s to 2 800 kcal per person per day today. The gains in the world average reflect predominantly those of the developing countries, given that the industrial and transition economies had fairly high levels of food consumption already in the mid-1960s. Over the period to 1997-99, average daily per capita food consumption in developing countries rose from 2 050 kcal to 2 680 kcal (see Annex Table A3).

The proportion of the world's population living in countries with low average food energy intakes has declined dramatically. In the mid-1960s, no less than 57 percent were living in countries with average intakes below 2 200 kcal per day. India and China both came into this category. By 1997-99, although world population had almost doubled to nearly six billion, this proportion had fallen to just 10 percent. Even the absolute numbers - which decline more slowly because of population growth - fell by over two-thirds, from 1 890 million to 570 million.

At the other extreme, the share of the world's population living in countries with average food energy intakes above 2 700 kcal per person per day has more than doubled, from 30 percent to 61 percent. Rapid gains in some of the largest developing countries, including China, Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria, account for much of this progress. India, however, has yet to move into this category.

Over this same period, world annual consumption of cereals for both food and feed has doubled to 1.9 billion tonnes, while that of meat has more than doubled - no mean achievement considering popular fears that the world was running out of potential to increase production. The main forces driving this achievement have included higher in-comes, which have increased effective demand, increased supplies, owing to improvements in productivity, and the growth of trade and transport links, which have allowed food deficits in some areas to be covered by surpluses from other areas.

Yet hundreds of millions remain undernourished

This remarkable achievement has nevertheless left out a massive number of people, who continue to fare badly. In 1997-99 there were still 777 million undernourished people in developing countries - about one person in six. This represents only a modest decline from the figure of 816 million for 1990-92.

In China, huge reductions in poverty raised national average food consumption substantially - and this had a strong effect on the global picture. If China is removed from the picture, it becomes clear that the number of under-nourished people actually increased in the other developing countries, by almost 40 million.


The region with the largest number of undernourished people in 1997-99 was South Asia, where 303 million or just under a quarter of the population remained undernourished. The region with the highest proportion was sub-Saharan Africa, where over a third of the total population, or 194 million people, were undernourished.

In 1997-99, some 30 developing countries still had average per capita food consumption of below 2 200 kcal per day. War and civil strife were significant factors in no less than half of these countries. In most of them, food consumption today stands at levels below those attained in the past. Some 23 of the 30 are in sub-Saharan Africa, while only 7 are in other regions.

Populations and incomes will continue to grow

Future food consumption patterns are deter-mined by growth in population and in incomes, and by changes in dietary preferences.

The latest projections by the United Nations (UN) show a continuing slowdown in the growth of the world's population. In the medium UN projection, the 6.1 billion people of 2000 will grow to 7.2 billion in 2015 and 8.3 billion in 2030, heading towards 9.3 billion in 2050.

Perceptions of a continuing population explosion are false. In fact it is more than 30 years since the world passed its peak population growth rate, of 2.04 percent a year, in the late 1960s. Since then the growth rate has fallen to 1.35 percent. This is expected to fall further to 1.1 percent in the period 2010 to 2015 and to 0.8 percent in 2025 to 2030. There will be a corresponding slowdown in the growth of demand for food.

The absolute numbers added each year are also past their peak of 86 million a year, reached in the late 1980s. Even so, current annual additions of around 77 million still amount to almost a new Germany each year. The yearly increments will taper off only slowly during the study period: even by the period 2025 to 2030 they will still be running at 67 million a year. It is only by the middle of the century that these increments will have fallen significantly, to 43 million per year in 2045 to 2050. Almost all of these increases will be in the developing countries.

By 2030 there will be substantial differences in population growth rates among the developing countries. While East Asia's population will be growing at only 0.4 percent a year, that of sub-Saharan Africa will still be growing at 2.1 percent. By 2030, every third person added to the world's population will be a sub-Saharan African. By 2050, this will rise to every second person.

The second major factor determining the demand for food is growth in incomes. The latest World Bank assessment of future economic growth is less optimistic than its predecessors, but it still projects a rise of 1.9 percent a year in per capita incomes between 2000 and 2015, higher than the 1.2 percent seen in the 1990s.

What will happen to the incidence of poverty under this overall economic scenario is of great importance to food security because poverty and hunger are closely associated. The World Bank has estimated the implications of its economic growth projections for poverty reduction by the year 2015. They are that:

It is possible to achieve the goal of halving the proportion of people living in absolute poverty - defined as an income below US$1 per day - by 2015, over the 1990 level.

However, it is unlikely that the number of poor people can also be halved. This will decline from 1.27 billion in 1990 to 0.75 billion in 2015.

Much of the decline will be due to development in East and South Asia. Indeed, about half of the decline of 400 million projected for East Asia has already occurred.

Only in sub-Saharan Africa, where incomes are expected to grow very slowly, are the numbers living in poverty expected to rise, from 240 million in 1990 to 345 million in 2015. By then, two out of five people in the region will be living in poverty.

Average nutrition will improve, but under-nourishment will fall only slowly

In the light of these changes in population and incomes, progress in improving nutrition is expected to continue, though more slowly than in the past. Average per capita food consumption in developing countries is projected to rise by 6.3 percent, from 2 680 kcal in 1997-99 to 2 850 kcal in 2015. This is a third of the rise achieved between 1974-76 and 1997-99.

The slowdown is occurring not because of production limits but because many countries have now reached medium to high levels of consumption, beyond which there is less scope than in the past for further increases. Huge countries such as China, where per capita consumption rose from 2 050 kcal per day in the mid-1970s to over 3 000 kcal per day today, have already passed the phase of rapid growth. More and more countries will be attaining such levels over the projection periodn

The World Food Summit of 1996 set a target of halving the numbers of undernourished in developing countries by 2015, compared with the base period of 1990-92. FAO's study has found that the proportion of undernourished people should fall significantly, from 20 percent in 1990-92 to 11 percent by 2015 and 6 percent by 2030. However, in numerical terms the World Food Summit target is unlikely to be met. The total number of undernourished people will probably fall from 815 million in 1990-92 to some 610 million by 2015. Not until 2030 will the numbers fall to 440 million, thereby approaching the 2015 target.

The proportion of the world's population living in countries with per capita food consumption under 2 200 kcal per day will fall to only 2.4 percent in 2030. The reduction in the number of undernourished people will be impressive in some regions: in South Asia, for example, it could fall from 303 million in 1997-99 to 119 million in 2030, while in East Asia the number could halve from its current level of 193 million.

In contrast, in sub-Saharan Africa and the Near East and North Africa, there is likely to be little or no decline in the numbers of undernourished people, although the proportion will approximately halve. By 2030, all regions except sub-Saharan Africa should see the incidence of under-nourishment decline to between 4 and 6 percent, down from the range of 9 to 24 percent today. In sub-Saharan Africa, 15 percent of the population or 183 million people will still be undernourished by 2030. This will be by far the highest total for any region, and is only 11 million less than in 1997-99. The fate of sub-Saharan Africa is therefore cause for serious concern.

As incomes rise, access to food should become more equal. This is because poor people spend a high proportion of increases in their incomes on food, whereas there is an upper limit to the amount of food that rich people want to eat. This greater equality will have a significant effect on the numbers of undernourished people. For example, in the 44 countries that will have average per capita food intakes of over 2 700 kcal per day in 2015, the number of undernourished people is expected to be 295 million. But if inequality of access to food were to remain unchanged at today's level, this number would be 400 million. 

The decline in the numbers of under-nourished between now and 2030 will be slow, for several reasons:

  • Rapid population growth means that, although the proportion of undernourished may fall, the absolute number will fall much less and may in a few cases even rise. This is an important factor in sub-Saharan Africa and the Near East and North Africa.
  • Economic growth will not be fast enough. In the Niger, for example, 3.3 million people or 41 percent of the population were under-nourished in 1990-92. To achieve the World Food Summit target, the number of under-nourished will need to fall to 1.65 million or 9 percent of the population by 2015. To bring this about would require growth rates far above what the Niger has seen over the past two decades.
  • Several countries start from highly adverse conditions, namely low national average food consumption, high incidence of under-nourishment and high projected population growth. For example, nine developing countries had proportions of under-nourishment in 1990-92 of over 50 percent (Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mozambique and Somalia). In these countries the proportion of undernourished is expected to fall to 39 percent by 2015 and to 25 percent by 2030. However, because of the relatively high growth rate of this group's population, the absolute numbers affected will rise to 115 million in 2015 and may still be 106 million in 2030. Even these figures are based on projections for growth in food consumption that are much faster than the fastest seen in any comparable period in the past.
  • In countries where average food intake is currently low and the majority of people are hungry, reducing inequality of access to food has only a small impact on levels of under-nourishment. This is because few people are on diets that are more than barely adequate, so redistributing their food "surplus" does not greatly improve matters. By 2015 there will still be 41 countries with average food intakes of 2 500 kcal per day or less.
  • In the future the threshold for defining under-nourishment will rise, as ageing reduces the proportion of children in the population. Since children's food energy requirements are lower than those of adults, the average calorie requirement in developing countries will rise by around 3 percent by 2030. If it were not for this rise in the threshold, the number of undernourished estimated for 2030 would be 370 million instead of 440 million.

The number of undernourished can be reduced more rapidly by affording increased priority to agriculture, increasing national food production and reducing inequality of access to food. These three measures should be combined with continuing interventions to cope with the consequences of local food crises, until the root causes of under-nourishment have been removed.

It is possible for countries to raise nutrition levels even in the absence of significant economic growth. Mali raised average food consumption by almost a third in the 1980s, although per capita household expenditure fell over this period. Other countries, such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mauritania and Nigeria, achieved similar quantum leaps at times of slow income growth. The common characteristic seems to have been rapid growth in the production of food staples (cereals, roots and tubers), leading to improved self-sufficiency, at least in cereals. Because most agriculture was at or below the subsistence level, increased production led directly to improved food consumption in rural populations.

The problem of under-nourishment should become more tractable

The projections imply that the problem of under-nourishment should become more tract-able in future. This will work in two major ways:

As the incidence of under-nourishment diminishes, more and more countries will find it easier to address the problem through national policy interventions. By 2030, three-quarters of the population of developing countries could be living in countries where less than 5 percent of people are undernourished, compared with 7.7 percent at present. This dramatic change will occur because the majority of the most populous countries (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Mexico and Pakistan) will shift to the "under-5-percent" category.

The number of countries with severe problems of under-nourishment will become smaller over time. International policy responses will tend to become more feasible and effective, as the total effort need not be spread so thinly. For example, if the projections come true, the number of countries with under-nourishment of over 25 percent will fall from 35 at present (accounting for 13 percent of the population of the developing countries) to 15 in 2030 (accounting for only 3.5 percent).

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