CATCH THE BUZZ – Feeding The World: Nine Billion Shades Of Gray

Purdue Professor has a message of money, not food. This is a very original opinion – you want to eat, pay up first.

By: Eric Sfiligoj, CropLife News

For many years now, the agricultural world has had an almost laser-driven focus on the world’s projected population by the middle of the 21st century. Based upon virtually every researchers figures, the number of individuals that call our Earth home come 2050 should top the nine billion mark, up two billion from today’s count.

“The agricultural industry has made this information some kind of mantra,” says Allan Gray, director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business at Purdue University. “And our industry has decided that we have to feed these nine billion people. But today, 893 million people on this planet already go to bed hungry each night!”

Speaking at a Dow AgroSciences media event in July, Gray also said that too much focus has been centered on where these extra two billion people will live. Based upon a series of population map projections from National Geographic magazine, Gray showed that countries such as China and India still lead the world in actual numbers. However, this won’t necessarily matter much down the road.

“Research shows that you need 2.1 children per family to grow your total population,” said Gray. “But China has been living with a one child policy for 40 years now, so the country’s population growth will slow very soon.”

And in pure numbers, Sub-Saharan Africa will be the fastest growing region on the planet by 2050, he added. “This is the youngest population in the world going forward,” said Gray.

Instead, Gray had a message to those in the media regarding getting too caught up in the nine billion population number. “Stop talking about nine billion people,” he told attendees. “Start talking about where they are.”

For those in the food industry, having extra spending money is the key to this population growth. “Sub-Saharan Africa may have the fastest growing population, but they’ve largely got no extra money,” said Gray. “The U.S. is still the richest country in the world. And the average person in China, because of its one child policy, has a lot of money to spend on food. Make no mistake — this is about business.”

For those in agriculture, this will open up all kinds of new opportunities for consumption going forward, said Gray. “Consumers with extra money to spend on food are demanding different kinds of products such as organically-produced milk and vegetables,” he said. “And agriculture cares about this kind of buying power and the industry is motivated to deliver to this group because they’ve proven they will pay more for these items.”

In the future, Gray predicted the debate about agriculture would focus on the word “and” vs. “or.” “We will need biotech crops because we have to feed the world and we need organic products for those who can pay of it.

“The world’s distribution of income is shifting,” he concluded. “Agriculture will be happy to feed everyone, if they have the income to pay for it.”