Agricultural megatrends: how will we feed a hungrier world? - RIRDC

27 August 2015

According to the recently released Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) report, Rural Industry Futures: megatrends impacting Australian agriculture over the coming twenty years, one of the five key ‘megatrends’ that will emerge within global agriculture is a much hungrier world.

The report poses the question of how global agricultural production will cope under the pressure of rising populations and growing per-person consumption rates. The answer is that we are surprisingly well equipped to do so – provided continued progression is made towards free and fair trade policies, technological improvements, and well-functioning capital markets that incentivise future agricultural investment. 

  • RIRDC projects that about 60-70% more food will be required to meet global demand by the year 2050
  • Of this, the relative growth of staple grains required by 2050 is approximately 46%, while animal protein growth is 76%
  • Population growth is estimated to make up 70% of the total increase in food demand, while income growth will account for the remaining 30%

While a growing global population (forecast by FAO to reach almost 10 billion by 2050) and higher demand for food is nothing new (in fact, RIRDC points out that the required 60-70% increase in food production is actually lower than has been needed historically), the report highlights that there are some new and difficult challenges present facing the current global backdrop, namely:

  • Shrinking agricultural land availability (the world is estimated to be losing 122 million hectares of agricultural land each year as a result of desertification and urbanisation)
  • Growing water scarcity
  • Higher energy demands

Current yield improvements (approximately 1% p.a.) are on track to expand crop growth to sufficiently meet global food demand without requiring an increase in the amount of land under cropping. However, there is also likely to be increased demand for grains to be used in livestock production (as output of meat products will need to grow at 1.4% p.a.) as well as competition for land from other sectors, such as biofuel production.

Therefore, RIRDC indicates that there will be pressure to expand arable production areas. This would largely be at the expense of pastures, meaning that livestock industries will likely need to intensify over the next few decades.

While increasing livestock numbers will continue to be significant to achieving 1.4% p.a. growth, it will be less important than has been the case in the past. Instead, higher carcass weights will play a more important role in expanding beef and sheepmeat production, while shorter production cycles will be the key driver for the pork and poultry industries.

Read the full Rural Industry Futures: megatrends impacting Australian agriculture over the coming twenty years report here.

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