There is no global shortage of food, there is a glut, even under any plausible future population scenario, writes Dr Jonathan Latham
The idea that the world might soon be unable to feed its human population is an old and powerful narrative that has recently been extensively exploited by agribusiness. In its modern form the idea rests on the surprisingly narrow foundations of a small number of mathematical food system models. These in turn rest on specific testable assumptions.
Most prominent among these food system models is GAPS (Global Agriculture Perspectives System), a model led by researchers at the FAO in Rome. In "The Myth of a Food Crisis", I critique GAPS – and by extension all similar models – at the level of its basic assumptions.
GAPS is based on many assumptions, but the paper identifies four key ones that are highly problematic and which have major effects on predictions of the model:
1) That biofuels are driven by “demand”
2) That current agricultural production systems are optimized for productivity
3) That crop “yield potentials” have been correctly estimated
4) That annual global food production is approximately equal to global food consumption.
As the paper shows, the specific ways in which these four assumptions are incorporated into GAPS and other models produces one of two specific effects. They each cause GAPS to either underestimate global food supply (now and in the future), or they cause the models to overestimate global food demand (now and in the future).
Thus models like GAPS underestimate supply and exaggerate demand. The cumulative effect is dramatic. The discrepancy between food availability estimated by GAPS and the underlying reality is calculated in the paper using peer-reviewed data. In short, GAPS and other models omit approximately 12.5 billion persons' worth of food annually.
The broad consequences of this analysis are very significant. There is no global shortage of food, there is a glut, even under any plausible future population scenario.
Additionally, there is no empirical justification for the frequently suggested adoption of special sacrificial measures such as agricultural intensification. Nor is there a need for innovative but risky GMOs or pesticides to feed the global population.
Another way of saying this is that most if not all agricultural policies should be driven by criteria such as ecological sustainability and cultural appropriateness rather than imaginary production requirements.
The final peer-reviewed version of the paper is available at:
"The Myth of a Food Crisis" is an extract from the multi-author peer-reviewed book Rethinking Food and Agriculture: New Ways Forward
Edited by AMIR KASSAM and LAILA KASSAM and recently published by Elsevier.
More information about the book and its chapter authors is available here:
Contributors to the book include Philip McMichael, Robert Chambers, Allison Wilson, Vandana Shiva, Patrick Mulvany, David Montgomery, and Helena Norberg-Hodge.