Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Global food trade may not meet all future demand, University of Virginia study indicates


As the world population continues to grow, by about 1 billion people every 12 to 14 years since the 1960s, the global food supply may not meet escalating demand – particularly for agriculturally poor countries in arid to semi-arid regions, such as Africa's Sahel, that already depend on imports for much of their food supply.

A new University of Virginia study, published online in the American Geophysical Union journal, Earth's Future, examines global food security and the patterns of food trade that – until this analysis – have been minimally studied.

Using production and trade data for agricultural food commodities collected by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, the study reconstructs the global food trade network in terms of food calories traded among countries.

"We found that, in the period between 1986 and 2009, the amount of food that is traded has more than doubled and the global food network has become 50 percent more interconnected," said Paolo D'Odorico, a U.Va. professor of environmental sciences and the study's lead author. "International food trade now accounts for 23 percent of global food production, much of that production moving from agriculturally rich countries to poorer ones."

D'Odorico noted that food production during that more than two-decade period increased by 50 percent, "providing an amount of food that would be sufficient to feed the global population with an increasing reliance on redistribution through trade."

The study provides a detailed analysis of the role of food trade in different regions of the world, with maps showing areas of food self-sufficiency and trade dependency. D'Odorico and his co-authors demonstrate that most of Africa and the Middle East are not self-sufficient, but trade has improved access to food in the Middle East and in the Sahel region, a vast, populous, semi-arid region stretching across the central portion of the African continent that otherwise would not be able to produce enough food for its populations.

The investigators found, however, that trade has not eradicated food insufficiency in sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia.

"Overall, in the last two decades there has been an increase in the number of trade-dependent countries that reach sufficiency through their reliance on trade," D'Odorico said. "Those countries may become more vulnerable in periods of food shortage, such as happened during a food crises in 2008 and 2011, when the governments of some producing countries banned or limited food experts, causing anxiety in many trade-dependent countries."

The food crises to which D'Odorico refers were caused by extreme climate events that brought drought conditions to several food-exporting nations, including Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

He found that 13 agricultural products – wheat, soybean, palm oil, maize, sugars and others – make up 80 percent of the world's diet and food trade. He also found that China is greatly increasing its consumption of meat, which already is changing land-use patterns in that country – meat production requires significantly more land area then crops.

"Fats and proteins tend to increase with the economic development of emerging countries," he said. "An increase in consumption of animal products is further enhancing the human pressure on croplands and rangelands."

D'Odorico notes that some countries, such as the U.S. and Brazil, are "blessed" with climates and soils that are conducive to high agricultural yields, and also the technologies – industrial fertilizers, sophisticated large-scale irrigation, new resilient cultivars – and financial resources to sustain high yields, and therefore are major exporters of food to agriculturally poor nations.

However, as populations grow and climate change brings currently unforeseeable changes to growing conditions, it is possible that exports to other nations could be reduced.

"The world is more interconnected than ever, and the world food supply increasingly depends on this connection," D'Odorico said. "The food security for rapidly growing populations in the world increasingly is dependent on trade. In the future, that trade may not always be reliable due to uncertainties in crop yields and food price volatility resulting from climate change. Trade can redistribute food, but it cannot necessarily increase its availability."

Brevy Cannon | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: conditions grow investigators populations pressure producing self-sufficient technologies

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>