Food security: How will we feed 9 billion mouths by 2037?


By: Dr Peter Oberem, BizCommunity

27 Jul 2020


We need to consider all historical factors if we want to provide safe and secure food for future generations.


The agricultural revolution and changes in diet and lifestyle


The earth is said to be 4.5 billion years old, with the earliest man (hominins) inhabiting it 4.2 million years ago. Since then, evolution has brought about many changes as the earth and its inhabitants adapt to a new way of life.


As illustrated in this graph, man and earth have evolved over time. The first settled agriculture and domestication of sheep and goats, 12,000 years ago, brought significant changes to the lifestyle of humans, including a much less varied diet (mainly wheat and some meat) than that of the early hunter-gatherers. Work involved far more repetitive tasks leading to joint pain and back troubles, as well as teeth that wore down as a result of sand in wheat in products.


More cooked food, as opposed to raw food, was eaten, resulting in vitamin and mineral deficiencies and people being smaller with conditions like weaker bones, anaemia and scurvy. All this over a period of 12,000 years, a far cry from the diet and activity level of our ancestor species over the previous 2.5 million years.


In addition to this, the further effect of urbanisation and a relatively stable diet tremendously increased the human reproductive rate, further placing the emphasis on where our food will come from.


The world population growth


At the dawn of the agriculture revolution, about 1,000 years ago, the world human population consisted of 5 million people. Around the beginning of our new calendar (2 020 years ago), an estimated 200 million people were inhabiting the earth. With the arrival of the industrial revolution, it further resulted in a tremendous population increase, reaching 1 billion by 1800.


To see it in perspective, the human population doubled between 1970 and today, reaching 7.8 billion. Fortunately, this unsustainable growth rate is slowing, and it is estimated that it will take 200 years to double our current population statistics. Nevertheless, the world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2037 and 10 billion by 2057.


What will this mean for food security?


The effect on our food needs


With the human population currently at 7.8 billion people and predictions showing that the biomass material continues to increase yearly, we need to realise that the food demand will increase as countries develop and populations require better access to higher quality food, especially meat (protein).


With the expected 9 billion people that will roam the earth in a mere 17 years, it is not so much a lack of resources (natural or otherwise) that is cause for concern but the impact of humans and their impact through intensification of farming, that is causing ecological degradation to a point of collapse and no return.


At the turn of this century, 37% of the earth’s land surface was under agriculture; 11% (or 14 billion hectare) is permanently under crops; and 26% is used permanently for animal production. This total area of the earth’s landmass under agriculture is estimated to have reached 50% during 2020. It was only 7% in the early 18th century. The seven-fold increase is as a result of the need to feed the massive population growth generated by the industrial revolution.


The fourth industrial revolution ...


The solution: Africa providing sufficient, safe food for the growing human population ...


more, including table, charts