Agronomicists say it is too soon to say if technology to provide food for billions of people will be enough to feed all humanity.
The World Bank’s latest report shows that by 2050, the world will need to feed 9.7 billion people, compared with 5.3 billion now.
That is well above the 3.6 billion people required to meet the World Health Organization’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“We are seeing an acceleration of population growth, which has accelerated since 1990,” said John Aiken, chief economist at the World Bank.
“There are now 2.5 billion people who have a household income below $1,000.
That’s a lot of people.”
Aiken said the report showed that the rapid population growth was not limited to the developing world, where the number of people living in extreme poverty had risen from 1.6 to 4.7billion.
It also showed that in the developing countries, the fastest growing countries were India and Brazil, which grew from 2.4 and 1.8 billion respectively.
“That’s a very interesting finding,” said Aiken.
“This is not a surprise.
We were saying this would be a problem in the US in 2050.”
The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2100, the global population will rise from 9.4 billion to 11.1 billion, or nearly a third of the world’s total population.
The global food supply is expected to rise by about 200 billion tonnes in that time.
But experts say the biggest drivers of population increase will be a new crop, such as soybeans, maize and cotton, and a new food-production technique, which will help feed the growing world.
“Agriculture is a key driver of population,” said Andrew Pritchard, director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Adelaide.
“Agricultural technology has a big impact.
It’s about getting the technology to be available at the right moment and be able to use it in the right place.”
Food is the number one cause of hunger in the world, with almost half of the 1.7bn people in the poorest countries lacking access to adequate food.
The report also said the use of new food technologies, such biofuels and water-saving fertilisers, could reduce hunger.
But while technology will be crucial, it may not be the only factor, according to Aiken and other experts.
The rapid growth in population is “causing some issues”, said Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“We have a world that is growing rapidly.
The world is getting bigger, we have to be careful not to be over-consuming.””
So if we need more people, we need a lot more food.
The world is getting bigger, we have to be careful not to be over-consuming.”
The report shows the world faces a food shortage of 2.6bn tonnes of food, compared to the 2.2bn tonnes the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates it needs.
The food shortage is a concern for the UK, which imports more than a third (34%) of its food, and many other countries, such in the Middle East and Africa.
“We need to reduce the food demand,” said Paul Lafferty, the WFP’s global food policy director.
“If we get it wrong, we may be exporting food, but not producing it.”
Lafferty said the problem would worsen if the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) new rules on food and trade were not implemented.
The WTO is set to start new trade rules in 2020.
Lafferity said the WTO could require more food to be produced and sold to meet a growing population.
“The WTO rules are designed to make it easier for producers to export their food to other countries,” he said.
“But the WTO rules will also encourage farmers to take a smaller slice of their crop because they’re not sure they can compete in the market.
That means more farmers will have to go under the knife.”
The WTO is not set to enforce new rules.
The World Bank and other organisations are working to create a new system that would make it more difficult for countries to impose their own rules.
“It is very important that we have a system where governments can set their own standards, and then we have countries compete to do the right thing,” said Lafferity.