A remarkable report, The World Food Output, issued in November 1993 by the World Bank, documents with numerous charts, diagrams and statistical tables the fact that world food production has been steadily increasing for years and at a rate greater than that of the growth in population. Indeed, the greatest increases have occurred in recent years and there is every indication that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future.
In an Executive Summary accompanying the main report, author Donald O. Mitchell, a senior economist at the World Bank, summed up the situation:
Since Malthus wrote his essay oil population in 1798, many have been concerned that with growing population the world would be less and less able to feed itself: This hasn't occurred, but modern-day Malthusians warn that Malthus will ultimately be right. The evidence to support this view is scant but the arguments are compelling: population keeps expanding; no new land is being created; crop yields have increased considerably and may have peaked; and the environment may not tolerate the pressure of more intensive agriculture. Yet the evidence to the contrary is also compelling: prices of agricultural commodities are at their lowest level in history; crop yields continue to rise faster than population; and world cereals yields grew more rapidly during the 1980s than during the 1960s or the 1970s.
Despite the concerns expressed, the food situation has improved dramatically for most of the world's consumers. World output of cereals, the main food source for most consumers, has increased by 2.7 percent per annum since 1950 while population has grown by about 1.9 percent per annum. Cereal yields alone have increased more rapidly than world population since 1950 at 2.24 percent per annum. This has allowed per capita calorie consumption in developing countries to increase by about 27 percent since the early 1960s.
These gains offer the hope that access to food will cease to be a problem for most of the world's consumers.
Among the facts documented in the report were:
"…real wheat prices have declined for more than a century…." (p. 1)
"…grain production…in the developing countries during the period 1985 to l990…grew at its historical trend rate of 2.45 percent per annum (pa) (p 5)
"The gains [in food] in the developing countries have been dramatic. Per capita food supplies, measured in calories available for consumption, increased 27 percent from the early 1960s to the late 1980s. This gain allowed consumers to have both greater quantities and also a greater diversity of food products…. Per capita food production increased about 19 percent in the developing countries from 1961-65 to 1989-91, with 13 percent occurring in just the last decade" (p.31).
less than one-half of the world's land area suitable for crop production is currently being used for this purpose" (p. 51). The implications for huge increases in food production are obvious. Indeed, the author cited the estimates of several agricultural experts that the world's "cereal production could be increased to…about 18 times the 1990 level using the same share of cultivated land for cereal production" (p. 48). Although the estimated increase is a "theoretical maximum which could never be attained in practice," huge gains in food production are readily possible.
"World grain production increases will need to slow [!] if huge stock accumulations are to be avoided. . . World production will only need to grow by an estimated 1.4 percent p.a. during the period from 1990 to 2010 to keep pace with world demand. This would still allow consumption in developing countries to increase by 2.2 percent p.a. during 1990-2010 compared to 2.4 percent p.a. during the 1980s" (p. 155).
"World grain consumption is projected to grow by only 1.4 percent p.a. during the period to 2010. This appears to represent a relatively modest challenge for world production, which grew by 2.1 percent p.a. during the 1980s and by about 2.7 percent p.a. during the 1960s and 1970s. If yields were to grow at 2 percent p.a. during the period to 2010, not unreasonable in our view, then an additional 11 percent of the world cropland would need to be removed from production. Yields may actually grow more rapidly than in the recent past because of genetic improvements which are becoming available…. If this occurs, then pressure to reduce cropland used for grain production would intensify…" (pp. 167-69).
"it should become increasingly easy to meet the world's demand for grain if past trends in production and consumption continue…. Even if consumption were to grow more rapidly…the potential for increasing production far exceeds the expected increase…The probability of significant surplus grain production capacity and price decreases appears far greater than the probability of shortages and price increases" (p. 175).
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