To meet global food demand in 2050, agricultural production must be 60 percent higher by weight than in 2005.

Alexandratos and Bruinsma, 2012

F. Fiondella, IRI/CCAFS

Extra facts

  • Overall demand for agricultural products (including food, feed, fibre and biofuels) is expected to increase 1.1 percent per year from 2005/07 to 2050, down from 2.2 percent per year in the past four decades.
  • Increases in food demand are due to population growth and changes in diets.
  • As the population grows and more countries and population groups attain per capita food consumption with little scope for major increases, global food demand will grow at much lower rates. But for a long time to come, some countries might have difficulty increasing food consumption due to low incomes and significant poverty (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012).
  • Despite lower food demand growth rates, the absolute quantities of food necessary to feed the world in 2050 are substantial. Assuming no change in population growth, food consumption patterns and food waste management, the following production increases must take place by 2050:
    • cereals production must increase by 940 million tonnes to reach 3 billion tonnes;
    • meat production must increase by 196 million tonnes to reach 455 million tonnes;
    • and oilcrops by must increase by 133 million tonnes to reach 282 million tonnes.
  • It is also estimated that global demand for crop calories will increase by 100 percent ±11 percent and global demand for crop protein will increase by 110 percent ±7 percent from 2005 to 2050 (Tilman et al. 2011). To meet projected demand, world cereal production, which increased by 1,225 million tonnes between 1961/63 and 2005/07, is projected to increase by another 940 million tonnes to reach 3 billion tonnes in 2050.
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Methods, caveats and issues

  • Projections in a 2006 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations study (FAO 2006) formed the basis of statements about how much world agricultural production would increase up to 2050. In mid-2009, FAO compared the 2050 projection (that had been generated in 2003-05 from the base year 1999/2001) with world agricultural production for 2005/07. It implied a 70 percent increase in 44 years (from average in 2005/07-2050) (FAO 2012).
  • Revised and more recent data have been used as basis for the new projections. These include: (a) updated historical data from the Food Balance Sheets 1961-2007 as of June 2010; (b) the use of undernourishment estimates from The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010 (SOFI) and related new parameters (CVs, minimum daily energy requirements) in the projections; (c) new population data and projections from the UN World Population Prospects Revision of 2008; (d) new GDP data and projections from the World Bank; (e) a new base year of 2005/07 (the previous edition used the base year 1999/01); (f) updated estimates of land resources from the new evaluation of the Global Agro-ecological Zones (GAEZ) study of FAO and IIASA; (g) updated estimates of existing irrigation, renewable water resources and potentials for irrigation expansion; and (h) changes in the text as required by the new historical data and projections (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012:1)
  • Tilman et al., 2011 compiled annual agricultural and population data for 1961–2007 obtained from the FAOSTAT database. Net national demand for crop calories and crop protein for each nation for each year based on national annual yields, production, imports and exports of 275 major crops were calculated. To determine long-term global trends and better control for economic differences among countries, nations were aggregated into seven economic groups ranging from highest (Group A) to lowest (Group G) national average per capita real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP). Using United Nations (UN) 2050 population projections, the total 2050 demand for crop calories or crop protein for each economic group was calculated and then summed to estimate 2050 global crop demand. (Further information can be found at DCSupplemental/pnas.201116437SI.pdf#nameddest=STXT.)
  • Tilman et al.’s 2011 forecast of a 100 to 110 percent increase in global crop production by 2050 is larger than the current (60 percent) and earlier (70 percent) FAO projections that have been projected for this same period. Their projection methods differ in many ways from the methods of the earlier and current studies. The different forecasts may occur because of Tilman et al.’s use of quantitative global trends in per capita crop demand that emphasize income-dependent dietary choices (Tilman et al. 2011).
  • In current projections, the aggregate volume of world agricultural production in 2050 is about the same as in earlier projections, though the commodity composition and pattern of uses (food, feed, etc.) is different (e.g., somewhat less meat and the same amount of cereals, with a smaller share going to feed and more to biofuels).
  • The revised data for world production in 2005/07 are now higher than was known provisionally in mid-2009. As a result, world production is projected to increase 60 percent from 2005/07 to 2050. In practice, nothing changed in terms of projected aggregate world production.
  • The percent increase in the aggregate volume is not a very meaningful indicator, according to the FAO 2012 authors. More meaningful metrics might include tonnes of grain or meat, food consumption per capita in terms of kilograms per person per year or calories per person per day, crop yields or land use.
  • The projected increases are those required to match the projected demand as it may develop, not what is required to feed the projected world population or to meet some other normative target (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012: 7).
  • The world’s natural resources and the yield growth potential may be sufficient to attain these increases, but there is no guarantee that such increases will be forthcoming. Underlying the projections is the assumption that the necessary investments will be undertaken, and the right policies will be followed providing incentives to farmers, particularly in countries whose food demand must be primarily satisfied by domestic production (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012: 18).
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  • Alexandratos N, Bruinsma J. 2012. World agriculture towards 2030/2050, the 2012 revision. ESA Working Paper No. 12-03, June 2012. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (Available from
  • Tilman D, Balzer C, Hill J, Befort BL. 2011. Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture. PNAS 108(50):20260–20264. Washington DC: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. (Available from
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