"The prevalence and severity of global malnutrition could drop significantly by 2050, particularly in the poorest regions of the world," Thomas Hertel, one of the agricultural economists behind the paper, said.
"But if productivity does not grow, global malnutrition will worsen even if incomes increase. Climate change also adds a good deal of uncertainty to these projections," he said.
The researchers developed two economic models to project how global food security might be impacted by changes to income, population, bioenergy, agricultural productivity and climate – of which they said climate change would have the least effect relatively. The models looked at drivers of crop supply and demand and as well as population calorie consumption.
Consuming more, and better
According to the economists, forecast growth in income and agricultural productivity could lift over half a billion people out of conditions of malnutrition by 2050, a drop of 84%. This income increase would see the food consumed per capita rise by around 31% as families are able to afford more food, and of better nutritional quality.
The researchers said consumption patterns had been shifting from diets high in starchy foods to that which is richer in proteins like meat and dairy, and added there had also been a shift from local to Western foods.
Running alongside this steady future population growth, were issues of crop competition. They said there was increasing competition for output destination between household dinner tables - directly or as ingredients - animal feed and renewable biofuels.
Income growth alone not enough
Hertel said there was a “clear link” between agricultural productivity and malnutrition rates since boosting productivity tended to lower food costs. “Income growth alone will not be enough to solve the malnutrition problem," he said.
The researchers recommended upping research spending, and said the decisions we make now about agricultural research funding would have massive implications for these vulnerable demographics by 2050.
On climate change, they wrote that the impact it would have on future nutritional outcomes was uncertain. “Depending on the strength of the yield impacts of CO2 fertilization, climate change may strengthen or weaken the future gains in global food security,” they said.
Hertel added that there could be “pulses” of an impact in agriculture when looking up to 2050 only, but in the longer run adverse temperatures would “likely become overwhelming”.
“Rising carbon dioxide concentrations won't help after a certain point. Eventually, you drop off a cliff," he said.
Source: Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics
Published online ahead of print, DOI: 10.1111/1467-8489.12048
“Global food security in 2050: the role of agricultural productivity and climate change”
Authors: U. L. C. Baldos and T. W. Hertel