About 250 representatives of agribusiness corporations, academia, governments and non-governmental organizations attended the World Ag Forum in St. Louis in May.
The three-day event is the fourth time a panel of world experts have gathered to address the future of global agriculture, population, world trade and food policies.
World population. This planet will need to support another 2.6 billion (50 percent increase from today) people by the year 2050.
What is surprising is that the population of 50 of the world’s most developed countries will drop by as much as one-third during this time, while the 50 least developed countries (LDC) will see their populations double.
This trend should greatly increase the demand for food, right? Demand for products means there is a need, and that the potential buyer has money or assets to pay for the products.
The least developed countries have not had the cash to pay for needed food. They have a subsistence agriculture which does not generate anything for export.
Plus, many of these countries are land and water poor, meaning the only way to feed their growing populations is to get food from somewhere else.
It could be worse. According to Robert Thompson, Gardner Chair in Agricultural Policy at The University of Illinois, global economic and agricultural policies have depressed prices for rice, sugar, dairy products, cotton and peanuts by 10 percent to 30 percent currently, compared to what they would be in a completely free market.
Several factors reduce the ability of least developed countries to produce food and gain economic stability.
1. Trade barriers to least developed countries goods reduce their foreign exchange capacity and economic growth.
2. Agricultural production and export subsidies depress world market prices below their long-term trend and increase price volatility.
3. Food aid from developed countries is most available during years of surplus among developed countries, not necessarily during food shortages in least developed countries.
4. Past trade agreements have been dominated by the rich developed countries, and so they have not benefitted least developed countries.
Something has to change. Since virtually all population growth between now and 2050 will be in least developed countries, these are the only potential growth market for agricultural exporter countries.
They must find ways to convert their need into demand (the ability to pay). Studies have shown that the greatest potential for increased food demand is among populations that earn less than $8 per day.
Once people reach $8 per day earnings, their food buying does not get any better. Currently, 1.25 billion people on Earth live on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of these people live in rural places and most depend on subsistence farming, forestry or fishing for their incomes.
In fact, half the worlds current population (3 billion) live on less than $2 per day. The world’s arable land is not distributed around the world in the same proportions as the population.
In most least developed countries, the farms are only 1 acre, and residents cannot grow enough on 1 acre to feed a family plus generate enough extra income to escape poverty. Therefore, rural-to-urban migration is normal and essential.
The number of farms must fall and the area farmed by one farmer must increase. Of course this means other sources of employment and income must be developed for those people who move to urban areas.
This growth will only take place if these countries have greater trading opportunities in markets open to their products.
These greater trading opportunities and per capita income in least developed countries will expand their food consumption faster than their food production, increasing their food imports.
Opportunities. Here are the most needed opportunities for least developed countries :