Within a few more decades, dire food shortages may lead to global-scale conflict, warned a top plant scientist in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). There may not be enough land, water and energy to sustain the potential 9 billion people who are projected to share the Earth by 2050.
"Food issues could become as politically destabilizing by 2050 as energy issues are today," said Fred Davies, senior science adviser for tUSAID's bureau of food security, in a press release.
Biotechnology, improved breeding and advances in farming techniques may not be capable of keeping up with the growing human population, according to Davies. Even if farm production can be increased through technology, those innovations may not trickle down to small-scale farmers, the very people who most need help to stave off starvation.
Recent history shows that even massive increases in production don't solve hunger. In the middle of the last century, the “Green Revolution” dramatically increased crop yields. New varieties of wheat and other grains produced bumper crops, but required purchases of expensive seed, fertilizer and other materials.
Hypothetically, food abounded for all after the agricultural advances, and hunger was indeed reduced in many regions. Yet starvation continued because of economic inequalities and lack of access to food supplies. Plus, subsistence farmers couldn't afford the new technologies or compete with the large farms that could afford fertilizers and high-yielding seeds.
Now, after less than a century, the human population has grown rapidly, fueled by the bountiful harvests of Green Revolution technology. Once again, the global food system approaches its maximum production limit, but this time, technology may not be up to the challenge, as Davies warned.
One way to partially address the challenge could be to shift farm production toward profitable horticultural crops, like chili peppers, as opposed to bulk commodities, such as corn, suggested Davies.
"A greater emphasis is needed in high-value horticultural crops," Davies said. "Those create jobs and economic opportunities for rural communities and enable more profitable, intense farming."
In many cultures, sociologists have observed that increasing wealth correlates to decreasing birth rates, a phenomenon known as the demographic-economic paradox. Although a wealthier nation, such as Japan, could support more children, citizens tend to actually have fewer kids.
By lifting people out of poverty, the food wars of the future could be averted, as long as those wealthier future people don't demand the same amounts of resource-intensive foods, such as beef, that current rich populations enjoy.