Food is only going to get more expensive over the next decade, according to a new report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The report cited several reasons for rising prices, including: increased demand for food and biofuels as a result of a growing population and higher incomes and standards of living, slower growth in food production, and rising energy costs. Limited water resources and farmland availability, as well as price hikes on necessities such as fertilizer, are expected to slow the increase in food production worldwide from 2.1 percent last decade (2003 – 2012) to 1.5 percent in the next decade.
Meat, fish and biofuel prices are expected to rise more than fruit, vegetables and grains, but meat production is still expected to continue to expand, with China becoming the world’s largest consumer of pork by 2022. The report notes that “increasing environmental pressures” — which include climate change-fueled storms, drought and flooding — will be one of the main factors slowing the growth of food production around the world. In China in particular — a country the report focused on, with a fifth of the world’s population and steadily rising income levels — water shortages will be one of the key problems facing food production as rainfall becomes more variable. And there will be other risks for China as well. As the report notes: “Food availability will be impacted by changes in temperature, water availability, extreme weather events, soil condition, and pest and disease patterns.”
But China’s not the only country that faces threats to food production from climate change. Last year, a report from Oxfam warned that extreme weather events would cause food prices around to world to soar in the coming decades. The report projected worldwide corn prices to spike by 500 percent by 2030, and that another U.S. drought in 2030 could raise America’s corn prices 140 percent on top of that. The OECD and U.N. FAO’s report says key to meeting the demands of a growing global population is improving agricultural productivity and reducing food waste — a problem that has risen sharply over the past few decades. It warns that continued use of unsustainable farming practices will do little to improve food security around the world: There is a growing need to improve the sustainable use of available land, water, marine ecosystems, fish stocks, forests and biodiversity. It is estimated that some 25% of all agricultural land is highly degraded, with growing water scarcity a fact for many countries. Many fish stocks are over-exploited, or in risk of being over-exploited. As fish stocks decline and more people are consuming seafood, the report projects that aquaculture will surpass capture fisheries as the world’s main source of fish by 2015. This may be good news for rapidly depleting fish stocks, but a major expansion of aquaculture presents its own environmental and health-related concerns.