Livestock Research for Rural Development 21 (12) 2009 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Feeding the future

D Farrell

School of Land, Crops and Food Sciences, University of Queensland,
St Lucia, 4072, Queensland, Australia


The aim of this paper is to estimate the feed, food and land area that will be required by 2016-2018. The alarming increase in biofuel production, the projected demand for livestock products, and the estimated food to feed the additional 700 million people who will arrive here by 2016, will have unprecedented consequences. Arable land, the environment, water supply and sustainability of the agricultural system will all be affected. Given the demands, partly driven by the new wealth mainly in developing countries, there is unlikely to be sufficient extra arable land (140 million ha) or water to allow this expansion. Projections of others are examined and there is usually reasonable agreement. Food and feed costs are already rising and are expected to keep pace with the price of oil. The disadvantaged, mainly those in developing countries, will grow significantly in numbers if these projections prove to be accurate; poverty and malnutrition will remain unchanged or will increase unless population growth is halted.

Key words: arable land, biofuel, ethanol, human food, poverty, population growth, sustainability, water supply


“Men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and free from violence, oppression or injustice”. The United Nations Millennium Declaration 2000


Since commencing this article well over a year ago, dramatic changes have occurred. Crude oil declined from $147/barrel to less than $50 but has risen to about $70 although the biofuel market has gone quiet. The economic tsunami that has gripped the entire world is abating but the full implications are being felt. Despite these events, the poultry industry, for example, has proven to be particularly resilient; even though many integrated companies in the US have shown a severe downturn some are now returning to profitability.


Despite the uncertainty of the situation, what I would like to do is to essentially ignore these recent events on the supposition that such catastrophic situations, given time, may correct themselves and we can reset our course more or less as previously. However, I do see that these forecasts may be subject to rapid change in the light of recent predictions by recognised authorities (OECD/FAO 2009 and FAPRI 2009). These have been used to backstop some data presented here.


There is a tug of war happening amongst those who are seeking to share the global feed and food pie. First, there are those almost seven billion inhabitants who need to be fed daily. About two billion of these are living in poverty, that is on $1-2/day and half of them have no electricity. The competition for feedstuffs and arable land,, including that for sugar cane, for the production of biofuel (biodiesel and ethanol), has recently destabilised the price of grains such that rice, the staple food of over two billion people soared recently and  in some countries to almost $1000/ tonne  from less than $400 per tonne in the immediate past and often causing civil unrest. Thankfully, the price has since receded although still 10 to 20% above pre 2007-08 levels and much higher in some sub Saharan African countries.


In order to estimate arable land used for food, feed and biofuel crops, it is necessary to make several assumptions and predictions regarding yield, consumption and usage. The edict that by 2020, 20% of the US oil consumption will be replaced by biofuel may well be changed under the new president. This is a key issue, as we will shortly see from our calculations.


Predictions are made mostly to 2016-18 and for more detail of many of the calculations made here, the reader is referred to the paper published recently (Farrell 2008). Reference is also made to a paper by Windhorst (2007) who has reviewed the biofuel situation, mainly in the European Union (EU) but his predictions will need now to be modified.


Biofuel production 

Biofuel is currently produced from oil seeds, grains and sugar cane (See Lyons 2007a). Ethanol is produced mainly from corn (maize) and from sugar cane largely grown in Brazil. Ethanol yields only 70% as much energy as gasoline (petrol) but biodiesel yields the same. Although second generation feedstocks, mainly those high in fibre and using fungi in a solid state fermentation process, are being researched, they have not yet reached a stage of commercial production and are unlikely to do so in the next 5-7 years. They will therefore not be considered in any predictions made here although they may replace some of the current grain feedstocks starting in about 2015 (Aho 2008).


Recent consumption of crude oil in the US was 940 million  tonnes per year. We have assumed in some calculations that this figure will not change but by 2018 20% is mandated to be replaced by biofuel; considered by some to be an impossible task. If this is adjusted to 14% on the basis of energy equivalent, a total area of about 100 million ha of land would be needed by 2018 to meet requirement for biofuel. However biofuels will be struggling to compete with fossil fuels if the price of crude oil remains around the current $60-70 per barrel (OECD/FAO 2009). There is likely to be a close relationship between crude oil price, feed price and the price of food for humans (Anonymous 2009).


Table 1 is the estimated area of arable land that was used to produce biofuel in 2008 and that predicted for 2018.

Table 1.  Area of land (million ha land) needed for biofuels calculated at 1250 kg biodiesel/ha from rapeseed, 446 kg/ha from soybean oil, 2402 kg/ha ethanol/ha from corn (maize) and 7000 kg/ha from sugar cane































This conservative figure includes ethanol from sugar cane in Brazil. Predictions are taken largely from a recent report by FAPRI (2009). Requirement is for 57.4 million ha of land by 2018. Other oil seeds, such as sunflower seeds, may replace rape and soybean seeds but this will not alter greatly the calculations for land area given in Table 1.


A recent estimate for 2009 is for 145 million tonnes of biofuel (excluding sugar cane); of this about 15 million tonnes will come from oilseeds (Bell 2009). This would account for 77million ha of land and much more than that calculated for 2018 which includes ethanol from sugar cane (Table 1).


Aho (2008) predicted that by 2016 the United States will produce 57 billion litres of biofuels from first generation sources of feedstock (capped beyond this year) and 30 billion litres from other sources. If so, this is only 64% of that mandated by President Bush. As Lyons (2007b) points out, if we are to reach the US target of around 100 billion litres of ethanol/year, which is most unlikely, this will need 29 million ha and most of the corn now produced in the US.


A recent report (FAO/OECD 2009) predicted that by 2018 annual world production of ethanol would be 195 billion litres and 44 billion litres of biodiesel. Half of this biodiesel will be produced in the EU. Brazil is expected to export 13 billion litres of ethanol in 2018 and 60% of the sugar cane crop will be diverted to ethanol production by 2018. Assuming that half of the ethanol will come from sugar cane grown in Brazil and half from maize in the US this will require 29 million ha of land. For biodiesel, land needed will be 54 ha assuming that half is from rape seed and half from soybeans and needing well above the calculated land area in Table 1. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the land area needed to produce vegetable oils compared to ethanol is very high even though the residual meal can be fed to livestock.


Feed requirements for livestock 

Growth in the global livestock industry has been continuous over the last two decades. Eighty two percent of future livestock growth will be in developing countries (OECD/FAO 2009) especially those with a burgeoning economy and often starting from a low base. India and China, with close to 40% of the world’s population have, until recently, experienced economic growth from 8-11% per year although currently about 4-7 %. Predictions for feed requirements are based on linear increases or decreases in rate of production from 2000 to 2006 for the different classes of livestock using FAO data in Table 2.

Table 2.  Global production of meat, milk and eggs (millions of metric tonnes) in the developed1 and developing2 countries and those predicted to 2016 and by Delgado3 for 2020 where available. Annual change is given as % per year from 2006 to 2016



Change %





















Turkey meat








Duck meat








Sheep and goat








Chicken meat


























1Australia, Canada, Eastern Europe, European Union, other Western European countries, Israel, former Soviet Union, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, United States. 2All other countries in FAO Statistical Database. 4NA is not available

The next step in the process is to estimate feed needed for the different livestock categories predicted for 2016. Each year compounded feed production is published. Most recent data for 2008 gives a global production of 700 million tonnes (Best 2009). These data are compiled by the International Feed Industry Federation. But not all manufacturers of compounded feed are members. In addition, there are many livestock producers who mix their own feed so estimates made here will be conservative for feed usage. For example, China’s compounded feed for 2006 was 84 million tonnes. Yet in 2003 the Chinese Government’s figure was 142 million tonnes of which 42% was home mixed (Hall 2005). In 2003, grain usage alone for livestock feed was estimated to be 702 million  tonnes (Goettel 2003). We have therefore increased the figure for 2006 to a modest 714 million tonnes for compounded feed (Table3) as the basis of our calculations for ruminant and minor species only.

Table 3.  Estimated compounded feed required by the various classes of livestock in 2006 and 2016


Developed /
Developing countries

Per cent on feed

million tonnes











































































Beef and veal1






Dairy cattle1


















Grand total






1Calculated from the predicted 814 million tonnes of compounded feed to be produced in 2016 and the 714 million tonnes in 2006. Beef & veal 6%, dairy cattle 17%, aquaculture 4% and other 3% of the total amount

It is well known that many countries, particularly developing ones, have large numbers of backyard-raised local breeds of poultry and pigs which are important to household nutrition. Although large in number, their yield is modest and they may contribute little to countries with a high industrial poultry production. They are rarely fed much grain or compounded feed but receive household waste and feed by-products. Only 40% of poultry in China were fed on mixed feed in 2005. But this is expected to increase to 80% of all laying hens and 90% of all broiler chickens by 2015. For pigs, it was 30% in 2005 and increasing to 80% by 2015 (Hall 2005). Currently per capita pig meat consumption in China is over 40 kg/year (53 million  tonnes).  If these predictions are remotely correct, they will have a huge impact on demand for global feedstuffs.


An important consideration that may modify pig production in China is the impact of greater intensification and with it the introduction of superior genotypes, and improvement in the quality of their diet. Backyard sows raise few pigs per year; their offspring are slow-growing, they utilise mainly feed waste and by-products such that feed efficiency is poor but cost is low. There will be a need to have fewer pigs of improved and more efficient breeds to replace these but requiring a higher quality diet. The net effect may be to reduce, only slightly, overall the demand for compounded feed calculated here.


In subsequent calculations for each livestock category, standard values are used to convert feed to produce. Account is also taken of feed required for breeding stock. For example, feed to meat for broilers is 2:1, for pigs 3.5:1 and for eggs 2.5:1. To convert live animals to carcass meat, we have used 0.7 for poultry and 0.65 for ducks and pigs for killing-out yield


For ruminant livestock, calculations are more difficult because relatively few are given compounded feed, particularly in developing countries. We have used here recent information on how global compounded feed is distributed across species. In 2004, poultry received 38%, pigs 32%, dairy cattle 17%, beef cattle 6%, aquaculture 4% and other species 3% (Gill 2005). These distributions are unlikely to change much and are used in our present calculations for feed but only for ruminants, aquaculture and for minor species. This same breakdown of compounded feed is used for 2016 and is conservatively estimated to be 814 million  tonnes. Global milk production is set to increase to 651 million  tonnes in 2016 (Table 2). Our estimate does not include other dairy products and milk powder or feed for small ruminants. About 20% of eggs do not come from commercial flocks but from culled layers and backyard flocks (Watt Executive Guide 2008/09). For developing countries in 2006 and 2016, we have estimated that, in 2006, 30% of layers were on compounded feed, increasing to 50% in 2016. Corresponding figures for pigs are from 35 to 70% on compounded feed. So, again, data here are likely to be conservative.


There will be an additional 372 million tonnes of feed needed for livestock production by 2016 (Table 3).


Arable land needed to grow feed for livestock


The next task is to estimate how much land will be needed to grow the 1101 million  tonnes of feed for livestock (Table 4). This is apportioned into grain 70% and protein sources 20%. The remaining 10% will accommodate feed additives and feed byproducts. For purposes of calculations, cereals are subdivided into corn 80% and wheat 20%. Only two protein sources are considered: soybeans and rape seed. These contain 21% and 40% oil respectively. Livestock are usually fed the oil-extracted meals and this has been taken into account when calculating yield. Figures for crop yield vary greatly from country to country (FAOSTAT) but considering where these crops are grown for feeding livestock, the following average grain yields ( tonnes/ha) are used: corn 7, wheat 3.5, soybeans and rapeseed each 2.5. When adjustment has been made for yield of oil in seeds leaving the residual meal, it will take 119 m ha to grow the protein crops and 123 ha for the grain crops, giving a total requirement of 242 m ha of arable land in 2016.

Table 4.  Assumptions made in calculations of arable land area to grow livestock feed

Calculated Feed Requirement
(See Table 3), million tonnes

2006:  730
2016: 1101

Total, %

Grain in diet: 70% (corn 80%, wheat 20%)
Protein 20% (soybean meal 75%, rape seed meal 25%)
Miscellaneous 10% (not considered in calculations)

Yield, tones/ha

Corn 7.0, wheat 3.5, soybean meal 2.0 /ha, rapeseed meal 1.5

Land area, million ha

2006: 160.
2016: 242

Food for humans 

“Halting the growth in human numbers is a prerequisite to our achieving a sustainable ecological foot print. So one priority is educating women” (Lord May, the Lowy Lecture, Relations Among Nations on a Finite Planet, Sydney, November 19 2007)


World human population growth has slowed down to 1.14% per year but not enough, so that in the next 10 years there will be another 700 million mouths to feed. Despite a one child per family edict, China’s population of more than 1.2 billion is still increasing at 0.62%/year - about 80 million by 2016. But the largest increase is likely to occur in the very poor countries in Africa and Asia, especially India; population 1.13 billion (1.61% per year or 170 million more by 2016). Asia has about 2.9 billion, Africa 0.89 billion (2.4% or 160 million) and Latin America 0.56 billion (100 million more). Indonesia is expected to add 30 million with an annual population increase of 1.7%. Asia and Africa by 2016 will have about 75% of the world’s population (Watt Executive Guide 2008-09).


Growth in the developed world will be almost zero. Estimates for EU25 to 2016 are about 0.1% (Anonymous 2007). The challenge now is to estimate the additional land required to provide food for this growing population and to identify what food it will be. We can use a daily energy requirement for an adult of 11.5 MJ/day to 2016 (Shetty 2006). The staple food in many Asian countries is rice. It is here that about 470 million of the additional 700 million people will reside.


There are large differences in the staple foods for different developing regions. Those in sub Saharan Africa eat little meat - only 8% of energy intake - but consume 159 kg of starchy roots and tubers per head/year and a variety of grains - over 100 kg per head/year. In contrast, the contribution of meat to the Chinese diet is 28% of the energy and they consume 78 kg of rice and 61 kg of wheat per head/year and 271 kg of vegetables (FAOSTATS).


Crop yields vary enormously; wheat from 4.5  tonnes/ha in China to 2.6  tonnes/ha in Latin America. Yield of rice will depend on the number of crops harvested per/year. Indonesia harvests 4.8  tonnes rice /ha and India 3.1  tonnes/ha.


Zhou (2003) has attempted similar calculations. He estimates per capita annual demand for grains in 2015 to be 173 kg or 7.0 MJ/day, and more than half the estimated daily energy intake. At an average crop yield of 4  tonnes grain/ha, 23 persons will be supported on one ha of land. The extra 700 million will need 30 million ha of land but this meets only 61% of their estimated per capita food requirement (11.5 MJ/day). Animal products are now meeting 17% of dietary energy needs in developing countries. Annual growth of all meats may exceed 2% /year to 2016. On an energy basis this is likely to be no more than 25% of total energy (<3 MJ/day). Root crops, vegetable and fruit will make up the bulk of the remaining 1.5 MJ/day. This will require more cropping land. Root crops yield about 7.5  tonnes/ha but 1 kg will yield only 25-35% dry matter (3.3 MJ/kg) and vegetables generally less. This will require only 3.5 million ha. So the additional arable land for food by 2016 will be 33.5 million ha (Table 5).

Table 5.   Summary of estimates for arable land in 2006 and 2016 in million hectares. For humans, the land area is for additional food only.




Total additional land in 2016













Total additional land




As countries become more wealthy, more grain is used for livestock feed than for food. In industrialised countries this is only 26% of the amount used for all purposes (Table 6). This figure has remained constant since 1974.

Table 6.  Prediction of cereal demand for food and feed (million metric tonnes) by 2015 (Zhou 2003)




All Uses

Food, % of All





















amainly wheat and rice  bmainly coarse grains

The land area to grow 2380 million  tonnes of grain (Table 6) can be estimated using a generous average crop yield of 6  tonnes/ha. This will need just under 400 m ha of land. No provision is made here for protein concentrate to feed livestock and the land area to grow soybeans and other vegetable proteins (Table 6). Nor is land for the expansion food crops, other than grains for humans, considered in Table 6.


The great uncertainty is China. Predictions of that country’s grain requirements in various publications for 2010 range widely from 158 to 346 million  tonnes but a more realistic figure is about 200 million  tonnes with a deficit of 3 – 4 million  tonnes (Zhou 2003). The recent OECD/FAO (2009) report forecast the need to increase global food production by 40% to 2030 and by 70% to 2050 compared to 2005-07.


Factors that may modify food, feed and arable land 



There is clearly conflict between land used for crops for feed and for biofuel production, and that needed for crops to feed humans. One commentator (Oxburgh 2007) naively stated “Taking into account the world’s increasing demand for food it seems highly likely that if biofuels are grown on normal agricultural land they can never amount to anything more than a minor supplement to other fuels”. This is now unlikely.


There are several factors that may modify the requirement for arable land. First is the substrate that may be used to manufacture second generation biofuels, although the technology may not be in place by 2016. The substrate is likely to be fibre (ligno cellulose) residues (leaves, stalks, husk, cob, and cereal straw). Yield of ethanol from these is about 500 kg/ha (Windhorst 2007). There is a wide range of second generation options and much development in train. One review (Anonymous 2006) predicted that crop residues in the US could now provide 200 million  tonnes of dry feedstock per year. These rely on the practice of no-till cropping and this raises questions about maintaining soil fertility and sustainability. Thirty percent of the current corn stover would produce about 20 billion litres of ethanol per year and a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. With increases in crop yield, dry biomass by 2030 could meet the goal of 200 billion litres of ethanol and replacing 30% of petroleum in the US. The drawback is substantial capital input and infrastructure (collection, storage and transport).


Feed byproducts


There will be protein meals, mainly rapeseed and soybean meal, available as byproducts of the biodiesel industry and contributing 80%, and 20% respectively to biodiesel. Using data in Table 1 and assuming normal yield of oil from soybeans and rapeseed, soybean meal will be 10 million  tonnes and rapeseed meal 30 million  tonnes in 2016. This will be available mainly for non ruminant livestock feed. Rice bran and wheat bran, both useful feeds, assuming 10% of the grain weight, could potentially contribute over 91 million  tonnes to the animal feed supply. This incorrectly assumes that all of the wheat will be milled. On the other hand, yield of white flour is about 80%, leaving 20% of byproduct and not 10%, although some is used in whole meal flour and some wheat is fed directly to livestock as whole or as milled whole grain.


There will be almost two billion tones of cereal straw produced annually, assuming yield is equal to yield of grain harvested. Utilisation by ruminant livestock can be improved by alkali and ammoniated treatments but these additions may not always be economical. The vexed question of the production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is being addressed. Recent studies indicate that the feeding of nitrate salts may help to significantly reduce methane in the paunch of ruminants (Leng 2009).


About 330 kg of distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) are produced per tonne of corn in ethanol production (Lyons 2007b). They must be dried at some cost or fed wet to ruminant animals. Table 1 estimates that, by 2018, 23 million ha of land will be used to grow corn yielding 7  tonnes/ha. There will therefore be 53 million  tonnes of DDGS for livestock feed. DDGS can be used in poultry diets at a maximum inclusion of about 5% for broilers and 12% for layers; these are conservative levels. For pigs the inclusion is higher, as it is for ruminant animals. Apparent metabolisable energy (AME) for poultry is almost 12 MJ/kg but DDGS are low in some essential amino acids, particularly lysine, and the quality varies widely due mainly to processing conditions (Cozannet et al 2009).


 DDGS, may potentially reduce the net amount of livestock feed to 957 million  tonnes in 2016, thereby reducing  the land area to 137 m ha to grow feed for livestock. Feed byproducts (cereal bran and DDGS) may therefore amount, in total, to 144 million  tonnes, which can in theory be fed largely to ruminants but some to non ruminant livestock in 2016. It is likely that only a portion of these will be fed to livestock for logistic and other reasons. DDGS are estimated to replace 8% of global livestock feed consumption by 2018 (OECD/FAO 2009) and the amount is therefore less than that estimated  here. Unused wet grain solubles may be a liability and difficult to dispose of in an environmentally-friendly way.


Where will the extra land come from?


It is improbable that the additional 140 million ha of arable land will be available to grow the crops for biofuel, food and for feed by 2016. Even if it is potentially available, it will take time to get the land into production. Recent expansion in grain and oilseed production has come mainly from Brazil and Argentina. Currently, soybeans and corn require a total of about 60 million ha there according to the USDA Production Estimates and Crop Assessment Division for these two countries. Since 1978, over 60 million ha of Amazon forest has been cleared for agricultural use and is continuing at 2 million ha per year. Only 4 per cent of the Amazon is protected by law. Not only is the land being cleared for agricultural purposes but there is enormous mineral wealth in the region as well as hydroelectric potential ready to be exploited. Much of the 177 million ha of pasture, the 140 million ha of Cerrado grassland and the 444 million ha of forests, lie within the legal Amazon region and available for use. In the Centre-West (Cerrado) of Brazil, 30% of Brazil’s 52 million cattle graze on these grasslands. There are consequences. In Argentina, 6000 out of a population of 35 million own 50% of the agricultural land, resulting in high unemployment and social upheaval. Many subsistence farmers there and in Brazil are selling their small holdings to larger farmers and to multinational companies for crop cultivation.


The OECD/FAO 2009 report suggests that there is no shortage of arable land; it is currently 1.4 billion ha and the report claims that there are still a further 1.6 billion ha available. Vance (2001) predicted arable land use to be 1.8 billion ha by 2030-40. It is easy to see where this land will be found but the question arises, ‘is it really sustainable for cropping’? Claims that there are ‘large tracts of land available’, and sub Saharan Africa is expected to increase rice production by 9% by 2018, are difficult to substantiate.  There is some concern about further clearing of land and its potential impact on the environment. Plans to clear 180,000 ha of rainforest in Sumatra for pulp and paper are threatening the last enclave of the 6000 orang-utans who live there. Elsewhere rain forests have been cleared to grow sugar cane and palm oil trees. Other than this, it is doubtful whether there is much potential arable land available, particularly as most ruminant livestock will not be fed grain in the future as many currently are, so that large grazing areas will be required. Cultivating marginal land is unsustainable, requiring substantial fertilisers, and irrigation will generally not be available.


The rapid increase in population movement to cities and with it the use of valuable arable land for houses, shopping centres and offices, and the need for land for motorways and airports, are all reducing the available land for cropping. Arable land in China is a mere 120 m ha. It has declined by 6.2 m ha in the past few years for construction purposes.


The EU has 4 m ha of ‘set aside’ land. This can be used mainly for biodiesel but a further 4.25 m ha of new arable land will have to be found by 2010, and substantially more by 2016. Some of this may come from land that has been used to grow sugar beet (Windhorst 2007). This area is negligible when compared with the total of 137 m ha (adjusted for DDGS and protein meals) needed globally, but mainly in the US.


Effects on the environment 


There has been little mention so far of the greenhouse (GGH) gas emissions from the extra livestock, agricultural chemicals, especially fertilisers and fossil fuel that will be needed to grow these crops. Currently global nitrogen used in fertiliser (from natural gas) is 90 m tonnes/year and this will increase substantially. Recent figures show that China is a major user of agrochemicals with about 40% of global production and the highest application at 260 kg/ha per year (Bellarby et al 2008). Nitrogen fertiliser was 22.3 million tonnes, phosphates 7.4 million tonnes and pesticides 1.5 million tonnes and contributing substantially to their greenhouse gases. Global rock phosphate reserves are running down and expected to be almost depleted by 2050.


Livestock produce 65% of the global N2O and 35-40% of CH4. By 2030, the predicted increase for CH4 and N2O is 25-60% (Owen 2007). Livestock may contribute 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with few practical ways of reducing this so far (Clark 2009). Sustainability and viability of our agricultural system, not just for five years but indefinitely, is a challenge and so far has not been achieved.


Availability and escalating price of grain


The unfortunate consequences of the extremely rapid and short-sighted thrust to produce biofuels will affect the developing countries and particularly the very poor. Recent predictions are that developing countries will have a substantial shortfall in grains. For all cereals, this is forecast to be 190 million tonnes by 2015 for developing countries (Zhou 2003). This amount is unlikely to be met given the demand for biofuels in the EU and North America and will be even higher than predicted. Corn, available for export, will be greatly reduced as the US uses increasing quantities for ethanol production.  Fertiliser costs have risen sharply, adding substantially to the cost of grain production.


Well before the projected expansion of grain for biofuels, Zhou (2003) estimated that developing countries will have a wheat deficit of 103 million tonnes and of 89 million tonnes of coarse grains by 2015. The impact of these green house gases (GGH) on climate change and unpredictable weather patterns will affect crop growth and the emerging global water shortage (Hinrischsen et al 1998). It is estimated that by 2025, 3 billion of the world’s population will probably have insufficient water and by 2030-2040 there will be 52 water-stressed countries. Several countries including China are now suffering from a severe global water shortage (Jing 2009).  


The situation is at crisis point in Haryana and Punjab, India’s breadbasket states where cotton, wheat and rice production have increased enormously over the past 40 years with increasing irrigation needs. The underground water is getting deeper and higher in salts. The monsoons have brought only a fraction of the usual rainfall and reducing water flowing in the irrigation canals. Bitter conflict has risen between use of water for agriculture and water for human consumption. Violence has erupted as the population of India grows by 20 million/year (Wade 2009).


Predictions are not encouraging for crop yield. A 10% reduction in rice yield with each 1oC rise in average night time temperature (Peng et al 2004) is a disturbing statistic. Current yields of soybeans in Argentina and Brazil are expected to fall by more than 5% compared to 2007-08 (Laws 2009). Although all cereal grains have shown a significant linear yield over the past 30 years, there is an indication that over the past five years yields have plateaued. Cereal production is expected to decline by 3% between 2008 and 2009 harvests.


In 2007-08 grain prices escalated. Corn increased from about $168/tonne one year before to $232. Wheat was about $481/tonne and more for durum wheat. Rice reached $430/tonne and expected to rise rapidly in Asia. The unofficial export price in Thailand was $750/tonne. Rice is the staple food of more than 3 billion people, many of whom earn less than $1-2/day. As a consequence, those food-insecure people have increased by 11% between 2008 and 2009 to 833 million but FAO estimates that 1.02 billion are now food-insecure (Shapouri et al 2009).Although grain prices are now well below those at the peak, the FAO Food Price Index increased by 6% between April and May 2009.




With increased intensification of livestock, there is greater need to be vigilant of health issues both for livestock and humans. This means keeping ahead of disease outbreaks and the development of new drugs and vaccines to accomplish this. To what extent this success can continue, given the rapid mutation of microorganisms, for example, is uncertain. Highly pathogenic avian influenza caused by the H5N1 virus can spread rapidly, is difficult to control, can infect different avian species and has caused many deaths in humans. The outbreak of BSE (Mad Cow Disease) caused by feeding bovine meat meal to cows resulted in the slaughter of many thousands of cattle and almost 200 human deaths from Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease.


Concluding remarks 

Those waiting to redistribute the food and feed pie will be disappointed. Those planning to produce sufficient biofuel to replace 18% of the US petroleum by 2016 are unlikely to reach that target as there will be insufficient arable land to produce the grains. Second and third generation biofuels, although currently being researched, will not have the technology developed to reach predicted needs. It is doubtful if there will be sufficient feed to satisfy the requirements of that needed to drive livestock production. Although such scientific developments as transgenic livestock are considered to show great promise in increasing output and efficiency, Hodges (2009) rightly opposes such developments in practical farming and in the food chain. He sees them to irreversibly affect agro-bioresources and the environment. Also, “these manipulated resources can not later be withdrawn”. Genetic Modification (GM) of plants and animals is not now the solution to alleviating poverty. GM has not yet been shown to have a sustainable improvement either in plant yield or in livestock production (ISKAAD 2009). It is not the solution to feeding the impoverished.  Some think the technology may be downright dangerous.


Inputs to sustain yield of grain crops have escalated and with them food costs. Climate change and its consequences will perhaps be the number one factor. Feed may become so scarce and expensive that livestock products by 2016 may well be out of reach of many of those expected to be categorised as ‘middle class’ in developing countries. And what about the additional food to feed those extra 700 million expected to be here by 2016? Many will swell the ranks of the impoverished and malnourished. They will continue to compete with livestock for valuable grain so that despite the optimistic predictions of a reduction in numbers of the undernourished and needy, realistically this is unlikely to occur. There is fear of social upheaval in many developing countries as food prices surge. Those over two billion, now earning under $2/day, will be the hardest hit. Many on less will simply not have the financial resources to meet their most basic food needs. The most important issue facing the human race is its seemingly unstoppable population growth. Mother Earth can no longer cope with that and the brown footprint that accompanies it.



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Received 1 October 2009; Accepted 8 October 2009; Published 3 December 2009

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