Population Matters

9 Billion People, Climate Change, and Food Prices

June 6th, 2011

Right now there are 925 million hungry people worldwide and it is possible that this number will climb to 1 billion by the end of the year due to extreme weather and rising food prices. This would be the highest level since the food crisis in 2008 where there were food protests in 61 countries and protests turned violent or into food riots in 23 countries. While the increase in food prices was barely felt in the developed world, poor households in the developing world can spend up to ¾ of their income on food. This means that when the price of food increases they may not have the resources to adapt to the increased prices, as a result the World Bank estimated that the 2008 increase in food prices pushed over 100 million people into poverty.

If that is what the world looks like now, what does that mean for the future? By 2050 we will be looking at a world that will be trying to cope with the impacts of climate change where the world population is expected to reach just over 9 billion with 4 billion of those people living in areas that are chronically short of water. What will that mean for the food prices and the fight against hunger?

Last week Oxfam released a report, “Growing a Better Future: Food Justice in a Resource-Constrained World,” giving us a look into that future and it paints a pretty grim picture for world hunger by 2030. The report warns that with the myriad of pressures facing the food system prices will continue to rise and more people will go hungry in the future.

According to Oxfam:

The food system is bucking under intense pressure from climate change, ecological degradation, population growth, rising energy prices, rising demand for meat and dairy products, and competition for land from biofuels, industry, and urbanization.

The warning signs are clear. Surging and unstable international food prices, growing conflicts over water, the increased exposure of vulnerable population to drought and floods are all symptoms of a crisis that may soon become permanent: food prices are forecast to increase by something in the range of 70 to 90 percent by 2030 before the effects of climate change, which will roughly double price rises again.

The report argues that the largest challenges facing the food system are: how are we going to feed 9 billion people by 2050 without overexploiting the planet; how do we ensure men and women living in poverty are able to either buy enough or grow enough food to eat; and how will we manage the volatility in a food system dealing with the effects of climate? If we don’t take this opportunity to aggressively address each one of these challenges the future could be bleak, especially for those living in Sub-Saharan Africa where not only are they expected to experience the most rapid population growth, but also the worst impacts from climate change.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

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