Increasing Global Demand for Food May Slow in Coming Decade

Increased crop yields will affect global food supply and demand over the coming years, according to a new United Nations analysis. Edwin Remsberg/Getty Images

Global food commodity prices are expected to remain low over the next decade, because abundant supplies will combine with slower growth in demand in developing countries.

That's the upshot of a report recently issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an alliance of 35 nations that looks after the well-being of people around the world.

If you worry about the gloomy prophecies of 18th-century economist Thomas Malthus, who thought the world's population inevitably would outstrip the food supply and starve, the report may set your mind at ease. Instead, by 2026, when we'll have about 8 billion people on the planet, the average human will have regular access to an average 2,450 calories per day in the least developed countries, and more than 3,000 per day in developing countries.

One reason Malthus was wrong: He didn't factor in that agricultural productivity would increase as the population grew. The FAO-OECD report notes that 90 percent of the projected increase in corn production, for example, will come from increased yields of existing plants, rather than planting on more acreage.

That forecast comes with a few caveats. Food insecurity and malnutrition will still be problems across the planet, since even if the world produces enough food to feed everyone, it doesn't always reach the places where people go hungry. And while the demand is expected to slow, it will still grow.

FAO and OECD also project that the world's diet is changing. People in India and Pakistan, for example, most likely will drink more milk, thanks to accelerated production in those countries. And countries throughout the world will likely eat a lot more farmed fish, with aquaculture projected to be the fastest-growing source of protein on the planet.

The report also finds that income growth is expected to slow, which will lead to families spending less on items like meat and fish, cutting their growth rate in half compared to modern growth rates. To dig into the report more, check out the FAO's own summary of its findings.