malawi child drawing

Drawing by Samuel Malaza
Image: World Food Program

The number of people in the world who don’t have enough to eat each day is expected to grow over the coming decade. In 70 developing countries most at risk for food shortages, the number of people who live on less than the 2,100 calories per day necessary for an active and healthy life has already jumped, from 849 million people in 2006 to 982 million people in 2007.

The number of “food insecure” people in these 70 countries is expected to increase to 1.2 billion by 2017.

Once a year, the Economic Research Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture does a “food security assessment.” The latest report, released just before July 4th, describes a world where a growing number of people will be living hungry, unable to find or pay for the food they need.

The ERS researchers expect worldwide economic growth to slow and food and fuel prices to continue climbing, leading to an “ongoing deterioration in global food security” within these 70 developing countries. Food shortages will be particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa and are expected to grow in Asia, where previous projections had charted improvements in food supply. Those gains, according to the ERS, have been “slowing to a halt.”

(Food shortage in the developing world was recently discussed at the G8 summit — in between a five-course lunch and an eight course dinner — “19 separate dishes included diced fatty flesh of tuna fish and milk-fed lamb with aromatic herbs.” )

food map shortage
Interactive map of world nutrition: in countries shown in red 35% of more of the population is malnourished

Over the last several decades, food production grew faster than population, according to the ERS. Those developments led to an overall increase in per capita food consumption. Farmers produced more and those increases pushed down prices. The decline in food prices, however, reversed in 2002. Corn prices rose 30 percent between 2002 and 2006. Between 2005 and 2007, grain prices increased 50 percent. Sugar prices increased 80 percent between ’02 and ’06. The ERS expects that most these price increases are here to stay.

Since food costs take a higher percentage of a poor person’s budget, these price increases had huge impacts in less developed countries. In these 70 developing countries, food constitutes half of total household expenditures.

fertilizer spreader

Spreaders of liquid manure can increase land productivity
Photo: Giancarlo Dessi, Professional Institute of Agriculture and Environment, Cagliari, Sardinia, via wiki

“How can this trend be reversed?” ERS asks. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the ERS notes that there is ample arable land, but “current growth in the production of grains, the most important component of the region’s diet, is barely exceeding that of population growth.” The problem is that the region’s agricultural sector is lacking fertilizer, high-yielding seeds and water. The World Bank is planning to increase its aid for agricultural production.

The ERS report describes a world of food imbalances. While there are expected to be one billion people without enough food, there are one billion people in the world who are overweight. Even in developing countries experiencing food shortages, there are a growing numbers of overweight people among the rich.

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