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Virtual Library File - The resources outlook: by how much do land, water and crop yields need to increase by 2050?

The Challenge

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland co ...

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland could increase biomass production by only about 60% (Bruinsma 2011, Tilman et al. 2011). This may be achieved by, for instance, expanding cropland, changing diets, adopting more efficient agricultural practices, or by using current cropland areas more intensively. This choice involves trade-offs. For instance, expanding cropland into non-agricultural ecosystems may reduce other ecosystem services such as biodiversity, and release greenhouse gases. Therefore, intensifying the use of current cropland areas may be a preferred option. In fact, current studies are able to identify regions where there is a capacity to intensify agricultural production (Zabel et al. 2014). Measures aimed at closing the gap between production possibilities and current production, however, are not sufficiently addressed.

This paper discusses the natural resource implications of the latest FAO food and agriculture baseline projections to 2050 (FAO, 2006a). These projections offer a picture of the food and agricultural situation in 2030 and 2050. It does not deal with additional demand for agricultural products used as feedstock in biofuel production or the impacts of climate change, nor the additional production needed to eliminate (or to accelerate the elimination of) the remaining undernourishment in 2050.

The report concludes that agricultural production would need to increase by 70 percent (nearly 100 percent in developing countries) by 2050 to cope with a 40 percent increase in world population and to raise average food consumption to 3130 kcal per person per day by 2050. Ninety percent (80 percent in developing countries) of the growth in crop production would be a result of higher yields and increased cropping intensity, with the remainder coming from land expansion.