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Agricultural Forecast: Growing Demand, Slowing Production

  • Lisa Schlein

Secretary-General of the OECD Angel Gurria, May 22, 2012 (AP).

Secretary-General of the OECD Angel Gurria, May 22, 2012 (AP).

GENEVA — High food prices and slowing production - that's what we can expect for agricultural production over the next 10 years. Released by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a study also shows farmers in poorer countries will be leading efforts to feed nine billion people by 2050.

The good news is that food prices that have spiraled upward over the past few years are leveling off. The bad news is they will not be going down anytime soon. The rate of global agricultural production is slowing. Yet it needs to increase 60 percent over the next four decades to feed our growing world population.

These are among the findings from the latest world Agricultural Outlook, jointly produced by the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). At a news conference in Rome, FAO's director-general Jose Graziano da Silva says that, not surprisingly, the planet's poorest people will feel the brunt of the fallout.

"For the millions and millions of people living in extreme poverty, the implications of high food prices are clear - they might have to change their diets, usually to ones with poorer nutrition quality," said da Silva.

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In middle-income countries like Mexico, that is leading to growing obesity, as poor people switch from eating healthy fruits and vegetables to cheaper, but less nutritious foods.

The other side of the equation is agricultural production, which the report predicts will be driven in the future by some of the world's poorest regions - Latin America and the Caribbean, along with sub-Saharan Africa.

OECD chief, Angel Gurria said, "We can feed nine billion people by 2050 on this planet without stretching things too far. But we have to organize ourselves better."

But there are plenty of challenges. A quarter of all agricultural land is degraded. Many countries face water scarcity. Experts believe climate change is driving increasingly dramatic weather patterns.

The report says that not only do farmers need to use more environmentally sustainable growing methods, but governments should end harmful subsidies and invest more in agricultural production and infrastructure. In short, Gurria says, rich and poor nations need to treat agriculture like a business.

"In many cases, agriculture is related in people's minds to the poorest. It's related to aid. It's related to very depressed living conditions. We've got to shake that image away," he said.

It also means cutting down on waste. The two organizations estimate that about 1/3 of world food output is lost - either because of poor growing and harvest methods or because people are throwing away perfectly edible food.
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