Can we feed 9 billion people?

26 Jan

How much food would we have to produce to ensure that no one went hungry? Would we have to utilize all of the land and setup more fisheries in the ocean? How much of our resources are we willing to use and what technologies are we willing to adopt? The truth is that we might already be there.  Josh Viertel, President of Slow Food USA wrote a very interesting article for the Atlantic Food Channel and in this article he claims that in 2008 globally we produced enough food for 11 billion people.

I know this number leads to a lot of questions and I was not able to find a valid  source to support this claim. I am sure that the first question you will ask is: how can this number be true if  the global population was 6 billion people in 2008 and we still have millions of people dying of starvation?  It is plausible even undeniable that the number of calories available is not distributed in a way to ensure that the most people are feed. Think of the number of overweight humans in the world. Those are calories that are produced and are not making their way to those that are starving. Even scarier is the number of overweight pets in the United States and Western Europe. Again, those are calories that are produced and could have been used to feed starving humans. And I hate to think about the number of calories we throw out every year. I am not saying that if I finish my peas that fewer people will strave in Africa- I am just proving that maybe we are asking the wrong question.

I don’t think the question is how do we produce enough food to feed 9 billion people, I think the question we need to ask is how do we ensure that the food we produce gets to the 9 billion people.

On some level it is a no brainer, produce food and give it to those people that need it. However, the reality of food production is much more complex. Simply put it has to do with money (like everything else). People that can afford to buy food or grow their own food will eat and people that can afford to buy protein will eat diets that are varied and include more than just cereal grains. However, what we eat as individuals does not influence the number of overall calories we produce, or the number of calories a person needs to consume per day to survive. On average humans require 1,500 – 2,500 calories per day. Currently, we need to produce 1.2*10^13 (or 120,000,000,000,000) calories per day to feed everyone for one day.

That number of calories is just a number. It does not imply what percentage will come from cereal grains and what percent from meats or dairy products. Nor does it consider the healthiness of the diet. Soda has tons of calories but it has very little nutritional value.

My question is harder to answer. Asking how to produce enough food requires innovative farming partices, additional land for farming and more technological advances. That question is about numbers we need to produce x amount of calories annually how can we achieve that. My question is more about social justice and choices. We claim that we want to rid the world of hunger- well how do we do that, once we have enough food. Do we reduce the cost of food? Do we give it away? Do we encourage more people to become farmers and give them the tools to support themselves?

I have no doubt that we can produce enough food to feed a population of 9 billion people (even if we can’t right now).  However, I do not think that producing more food will solve world hunger, nor do I believe that everyone can continue eating the way people in developed countries eat today. We need to make changes to our diets.

This is not a case of simple math.

To find out more information about food production around the world click here

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Posted by on January 26, 2010 in food, Sustainable Agriculture


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