Today, we grow enough food to feed 9 billion people, and in future we should be able to feed 11 billion. We waste over 40 per cent of the food we grow, worth USD3 trillion – in fields, storehouses, factories, warehouses, shops and rubbish bins.
We will see more genetically modified crops in many regions, with crops resistant to disease, drought, and able to grow in salty soil. Genetically modified animals will also be widely consumed in over 30 per cent of the world by 2040.
Expect a rise in the proportion of global grain production used to feed animals to more than 45 per cent beyond 2025. Already more than 70 per cent of grain produced by wealthy nations is fed to livestock. There are absolute limits on the availability of suitable land. Therefore, the price of farmland is likely to rise in many nations over the next 20 years.
Green revolution in Africa – and China’s land grab
Many African nations will embark on a ‘green revolution’ similar to India in the 1970s and 1980s. This will be given added momentum by China, which is buying huge areas of fertile African land to secure food supplies.
Over the last decade alone, 177,000 square miles of farmland has been bought in 734 deals – that’s almost the size of Spain, or Thailand – from nations such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan. But countries like Ukraine are also selling. In 2013, the Chinese bought a 50-year lease for 11,500 square miles in Ukraine, 5 per cent of the nation’s land area, equivalent in size to Belgium or the state of Massachusetts.
Two-thirds of those who are hungry are small-scale subsistence farmers living off their own patch of land, and it will be impossible to radically improve food yields across Africa without large-scale mechanisation. This will be traumatic for those whose tribes have lived on that land for generations.
Rapid consolidation of retail food industry
In many EU nations, over 70 per cent of all retail spending occurs in just four or five retail chains and across the EU as a whole, 50 per cent of all food sales take place in just 10 chains. Expect to see a similar unstoppable trend in every other nation. As a result, national food markets will be dominated by central buyers, setting national prices for milk, or bottled water, or other basics. This could be a very tough period for local farmers.
Impact of biofuels on food and farming
The impact of biofuels is very important at a time when 840 million are hungry. According to the UN, the EU now burns enough biofuel calories in vehicles each year to feed 100 million people.
Twice over the last six years we have seen prices of some foods soar more than 50 per cent. And each time, the UN has said up to 70 per cent of these rises have probably been caused by burning biofuel in vehicles.
The biofuel industry has created a single food-fuel market, so oil prices and food prices are now locked together. And in turn that means land prices, farm prices and woodland prices (because woodland can be cleared to grow grain) also become linked to energy prices.
Some counter that this is different when converting biomass. But biomass still comes from land. So farmers devote huge areas to biomass crops, and cut the land area for food.
Growing more fish and protecting the seas
Globally 3 billion people get around 20 per cent of their protein from fish. Demand for fish will grow faster than for meat, not only because of increasing wealth, but also in the fight against obesity and heart disease.
Fish farming will become a global obsession, supporting hundreds of thousands of low-income coastal dwellers growing high-protein, healthy food, and protecting wild fish stocks. But at present it takes several tons of low-quality fish from the ocean to grow a ton of high-quality fish in a fish farm.
New kinds of farmed fish will be created, with genes that allow them to digest food grown on land; or crops will be altered so that the proteins they make are suitable for farmed fish.
However, we will also see growing concern about genetically altered fish escaping into the ocean, upsetting food chains and ecosystems. It is already the case that 25 per cent of all ‘wild’ salmon caught in Scotland have escaped from fish farms in Norway, or are descended from fish that have escaped in the past.