THE PROBLEM: FOOD PRODUCTION
CURRENT AND FUTURE FOOD DEMANDS
Between 1959 and 1999, the global human population doubled from three to six billion (Worldometers 2016). We are currently at ~7.4 billion people, with a recent annual growth rate of 1.13 percent (Worldometers 2016). Although this rate is predicted to decline slightly1 in the coming years, the UN projects the global population to reach 10 billion around 2050 (UN 2015). Feeding the planet will become increasingly difficult.
Current global hunger and malnourishment are the result of inequitable food distribution—not inadequate production—due to poverty, governmental policy, and conflict (WHES 2016). In the future, we may also experience real shortages.2 Approximately 40 percent of the Earth’s land mass is already dedicated to agriculture (Basu 2005), the majority of which (~80 percent) is directly or indirectly related to inefficient livestock production (FAO 2003; Wirsenius, Azar, and Berndes 2010). Much of the untapped farmland is inaccessible—it has already been developed for another purpose, is topologically challenging, is highly ecologically valuable, or contains soil of marginal value. In order to meet the growing demand for nutritious food, we will collectively need to (1) improve crop yields, (2) enhance the nutritional value of staple crops, and (3) make the best use of rich and marginal lands. Biotechnology offers solutions to future food insecurity by influencing key leverage points within the food production system.