Feeding eight billion people well

Dr. Huidae Cho
Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis...University of North Georgia

1   New food era

Feeding 8 billion within the next two decades

Record-high grain prices in the past few years

Restriction on grain exports by grain-exporting countries

Acquisition of vast land abroad by grain-importing countries

  • Countries selling their land do not have enough land to feed their own people
  • Future conflicts between the land grabbers and hungry local people

2   Leaders in land acquisition

The many faces of land grabbing—Cases from Africa and Latin America

2.1   Saudi Arabia

Losing irrigation water to aquifer depletion

Wheat harvest ↓


Saudi agricultural investment abroad—land grab or benign strategy?

  • Stimulated by the food price crisis of 2007/2008
  • They had ample oil money for more expensive food imports, but
  • Many food-producing countries imposed a ban on food exports!

2.1.1   Not without issues

The rush for land, water and other essential natural resources has become a curse for indigenous and minority peoples who barely have legal protection and redress.

Anywaa Survival Organisation

2.2   South Korea

Depends on corn imports to feed livestock

Its principal supplier—US—diverts more corn to fuel production

Republic of Korea’s acquisitions of agricultural land in foreign countries as of 2016 (in hectares)

Extent of agricultural land-grab revealed on new website

South Korea’s attempt to buy a third of all Madagascar’s arable land led to the fall of the country’s president

Eifion Rees

2.3   China

Losing irrigation water to aquifer depletion and melting mountain glaciers

Political economy of land grabbing inside China involving foreign investors

  • China is also a host for land grabbing, not for food, but for industrial tree plantations (ITPs)
  • Pulp and paper production

2.4   Competition for land

Competition for water and food

Maximizing profit

3   Raising land productivity

Investment in agriculture by international agencies has lagged.

Only some stronger countries such as China and Brazil moved ahead.

Prior to 1950: Expansion of food supply came about with the increase in dedicated cropland acreage

1950–2008 (post WWII): Shift to focus on productivity rather than acquiring more land ⇒ Grain yield tripled

One of the most spectacular achievements

  • 1950–1973: Grain harvest doubled
  • Growth during the 23 years = Growth during the preceding 11,000 years

World grainland productivity increased

  • By 2.1% per year from 1950–1990
  • By 1.3% per year from 1990–2008

3.1   Recent gains in land productivity from three sources

3.1.1   Growing use of fertilizer

14 million tons in 1950 ⇒ 175 million tons in 2008

US, Western Europe, Japan: Fertilizer use leveled off

China and India use more fertilizer, but they’re getting there too

3.1.2   Spread of irrigation

World irrigated area: 94 million hectares in 1950 ⇒ 278 million hectares in 2000

Raising irrigation efficiency than expanding irrigation water supplies

3.1.3   Development of higher-yielding varieties

Initial breakthrough from Japan

  • Dwarfing wheat and rice plants in the late 19th century
  • Less photosynthate going into straw, more going into grain ⇒ Doubling yields

Corns in the United States

  • Hybridization
  • Genetic modification

3.2   Yields leveling off

Signs of yields leveling off

  • Wheat: 7 tons per hectares in France and Egypt
  • Rice: 5 tons per hectares in China, Japan, and South Korea
  • Corn: Only crop that is continuing to rise

Despite dramatic leaps in grain yields

  • It is becoming more difficult to expand world food output
  • There is little productive new land ⇒ Cannot expand irrigation

4   Raising water productivity

Water shortages constrain food production growth

  • 1,000 tons of water to produce 1 ton of grain
  • 70% of world water use for irrigation
  • Raise irrigation efficiency ⇒ Raising water productivity

How do we get more water?

  • Switching flood water to low-pressure sprinkler systems reduces water use by 30%
  • Drip irrigation for small farms
  • Vertical farming

How do we make irrigation water more efficient?

  • Surface water irrigation efficiency is not 100%
  • Evaporation, percolation, run-off
  • Affected by soil type, temperature, and humidity

4.1   Water management

Water users associations reduce the drain on government revenue.

Responsibility for irrigation management: Government agencies ⇒ Local water users

4.2   Water prices

Low water productivity is often related to lower water prices.

Subsidies lead to lower water prices.

Gives the impression that water is abundant when in fact it is not.

Did you know? A glass of water anywhere else in the world is not free to the consumer.

5   Producing protein more efficiently

World meat consumption increased from 44 million tons to 260 million tons between 1950–2007.

Consumption of milk and eggs has also increased.

Global fish farm production to meet fish supply demands: Sustainable fishing methods (16 mins)

Soybeans are how vegetarians mainly supplement protein in diet ⇒ Larger quantities feed animals for meat protein.

China, US, Brazil are largest meat producers.

India and China have raised protein productivity

  • By feeding livestock with residuals (leftover waste from grain production)
  • Rather than soybean protein or grains that could be used for food

6   Localization of agriculture

In US, interest in eating locally grown foods has risen

  • Schoolhouse gardens
  • Urban gardening
  • Farmers’ markets
  • Travels 56 miles

Food from distant locations

  • Increasing Carbon emissions
  • Losing flavor and nutrition
  • Travels 1,500 miles


7   Strategic reductions in demand

Reduce demand by

  • Stabilizing population,
  • Moving down the food chain, and
  • Reducing the use of grain to fuel cars

Need reproductive healthcare and birth control services to the 201 million women who

  • Want to plan family size, but
  • Lack the means to do so

People who live at the intermediate level of the food chain are healthier and live the longest

  • We need protein for better health, but too much animal protein causes diseases

Reduce need to focus on grain production for other uses than food supply

8   Action on many fronts

It’s not just the responsibility of agriculture, but all aspects of government agencies.

The US can restrict grain production as fuel.

Individuals can ride bikes, take public transit, or just travel less.

  • We must reduce carbon emissions

Individuals can buy locally grown foods.

Eat less meat.

9   Discussion: Food supply

Future of food: Watch this and more related videos about the current problems we faced in food supply and do some research about what kind of efforts people and researchers are making to address those food supply issues. Please present problems and those ideas.