By 2050, the planet will need at least 70 percent more food than it does today, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts.
That’s both to meet a big jump in population growth—from 7 billion to an expected 9 billion people—and changing appetites as some poor people get richer and begin consuming lots of costly-to-produce meat and milk.
But at the same time, growing shortages of water and other resources, plus extreme weather and temperature increases linked to climate change are threatening to drive food production down rather than up.
Just look at Thailand, the world’s biggest rice exporter, which last year saw 25 percent of its rice crop destroyed by record flooding—or the predictions by India’s leading agricultural experts that the country’s rain-fed wheat production could fall 44 percent by 2050.
So how is the world going to grow enough food to feed everyone, particularly faced with these pressures?
The good news is there are a lot of clever innovations being tried out around the world—and some of them look like they could make a real difference.
In flood-hit fields in the Philippines, for instance, farmers are testing a hardy new variety of rice that can survive completely submerged for more than two weeks and still produce a crop. Other varieties can withstand floods and drought in the same season.
In Africa, farmers in drought zones are switching from water-hungry crops to hardier ones like sorghum or millet, and getting help building pest-proof grain silos that allow food to be stored longer or sold when prices are higher.
And in India’s Andhra Pradesh state, rural women now use advance drought warnings, relayed by Internet and mobile phone, to switch to the right crop for the coming weather—a move that has saved harvests and helped stem the usual wave of migration to cities in drought times.
Those are just a few of the innovations featured in a package on Solutions for a Hungry World published Wednesday by AlertNet, a humanitarian news website of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The videos, animations, stories, and blogs look at how alterations to the way food is planted, watered, harvested, stored, transported, sold, owned, and shared might help ensure there’s enough to go around by 2050.
Making the changes won’t be easy. Boosting food availability will require fundamental reworking of unsustainable but well-entrenched policies and practices—things like spending trillions on agriculture and fuel subsidies, or delivering food aid in ways that disrupt local agricultural markets.
But the good news is that many of the changes and innovations proposed already are being tested in the world's farms and fields, in laboratories and government offices, and in factories and markets.
Solutions will vary by region, by country, and sometimes even from one farm or village or apartment building to the next, experts say. Not all the ideas will succeed, and scaling up those that do prove to work, as quickly as possible, will be essential.
But it amounts to an encouraging start.
"Can we feed a world of 9 billion? I would say the answer is yes," notes Professor Robert Watson, the Chief Scientific Adviser to Britain's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
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