Food Shortages Might Doom Humanity by 2050

In Depth

Hey, not to freak anyone out or anything, but the world might become a post-apocalyptic wasteland where people fight to the death over taquitos within the next 40 years.

OK, obviously, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration; we’re not going to go full-on Road Warriors until 2075 at the earliest. We think we can laugh, but USAID officials are actually predicting global-scale conflicts over food by 2050. Given that Malthusian theory states that war, famine, and disease are the three factors keeping human population in check (and don’t discount disease’s prevalence given the efforts of some unbelievably dumb Americans), it’s particularly encouraging to see two of them ganging up on us at once.

The core issue at hand is that the world population is likely to increase to 9 billion by 2050. This, coupled with a lack of adequate resources, is going to lead to huge problems:

“For the first time in human history, food production will be limited on a global scale by the availability of land, water and energy,” said Dr. Fred Davies, senior science advisor for the agency’s bureau of food security. “Food issues could become as politically destabilizing by 2050 as energy issues are today.”

You might think that the solution would be improved biotechnology or farming techniques. NOPE. While those will certainly help, they won’t be enough to alleviate the problem entirely, according to Dr. Davies — or at least, current research funding projections won’t be enough to help:

“The U.S. agricultural productivity has averaged less than 1.2 percent per year between 1990 and 2007,” he said. “More efficient technologies and crops will need to be developed—and equally important, better ways for applying these technologies locally for farmers—to address this challenge.” Davies said when new technologies are developed, they often do not reach the small-scale farmer worldwide.

There’s also the matter of which particular crops we’re farming. According to Davies, the fact that we focus on crops like corn is actually a huge issue, because of the economic implications and the benefits that high-value horticultural crops could lend to small farmers:

“A greater emphasis is needed in high-value horticultural crops,” he said. “Those create jobs and economic opportunities for rural communities and enable more profitable, intense farming.” Horticultural crops, Davies noted, are 50 percent of the farm-gate value of all crops produced in the U.S.

The funny thing is that another ultimate solution might not actually come from where you expect: scientists have noted a phenomenon called the demographic-economic paradox whereby increasing wealth leads to decreasing birth rates. This is the reason that a relatively wealthy country like Japan, which could support more children, actually has a stagnant birth rate. So it would seem the answer would be to decrease economic inequality so that we can all prosper.

Ha. Hahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA GOOD LUCK WITH THAT. *sounds of profuse, pain-wracked sobbing*

Hey, but enjoy your Easter dinner, everyone! While you still can.

Image via Suzanne Trucker/Shutterstock.

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