Will There Be Global Famine in 2050?

A report authored by Dr. Craig Idso titled “Estimates of Global Food Production in the Year 2050” asks the question ”Will we produce enough to adequately feed the world?” Idso says that researchers are estimating that global food production must increase by 70 to 100% to adequately feed 9 billion people in 2050.

Idso deals with  this question focusing on the world and also subgroups such as Europe, North America, Africa, etc. To do this, he compares forecast crop growth resulting from higher atmospheric CO2 and improved agricultural technology against the increased demand for food resulting from forecast population growth.

The data used by Idso is sourced from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to quantify the food crops, the UN’s IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC FAR) for an estimate of the atmospheric CO2 concentration in 2050 and the UN’s medium variant population projections for the year 2050.    Additionally he used the Plant Growth Database of CO2 Science to define the effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on plant growth.  Finally he works out food production estimates that will come due to the “Techno-intel effect”.  This “effect” is the advancement in agricultural technology and scientific research that expands our knowledge or intelligence based—e.g., the Green Revolution/GM seed work, etc.


The FAO database lists 169 crops.  Idso uses 45 of those crops in his work as these 45 crops account for 95% of the world food production.  To provide greater understanding, tabled below are the top 5 crops that together provide more than 55% of the world crop food sources.

Specific Crop % Of Total Production
Sugar Cane 21.240
Maize (corn) 10.283
Rice, paddy 9.441
Wheat 9.372
Potatoes 4.871

              FAO Data Base for World Food Production 2009.

                                               Top 5 Crops

The Specific crops vary in their ranking from subgroup to subgroup.


The UN provides the forecast 2050 world population of nominally 9 billion.  Idso adds:

Another concern with respect to future population is whether or not the use of medium variant data from the United Nations is too conservative. Indeed, the medium variant population estimate for the year 2050 has recently been revised upward from 8.9 to 9.2 billion persons. A more realistic estimate of future population may be to use the constant fertility variant, which is weighted more heavily on current population trends and which foresees a global population of 11 billion in 2050.

Atmospheric CO2

Based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s best median estimate of this number (derived from the A1B scenario, ISAMS, in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, see http://www.ipcc-data.org/ancilliary/tar-isam.txt), we find that we could expect an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration of 145 ppm between 2009 and 2050.

Enhanced Growth Via Greater Atmospheric CO2 Content

In my last posting I discussed the results of a vast number of trials done to quantify the results of increased atmospheric CO2 content.  Click here to get more detail, but I have lifted a table from that posting which gives the reader a feel for the enhanced growth that results from increased levels of atmospheric CO2.

Corn 20 21.3
Rice 188 35.8
Soy Beans 179 46.5
Wheat 235 32.1
Sugar Cane 11 34

 Effect of Atmospheric CO2 Increased 300ppm Over Ambient



Providing seeds that can adapt to growing condition or seeds imbued with resistance to fungus or insects is accomplished by techniques such as mutagenesis and genetic engineering.

Wiki says this about Norman Borlaug, considered the Father of the Green Revolution:

During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in those nations.[4] These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation.[5] He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

From Wiki: 

Genetically modified foods (GM foods or GMO foods) are foods derived from genetically modified organisms, (GMOs). Genetically modified organisms have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques. These techniques are much more precise[1] than mutagenesis (mutation breeding) where an organism is exposed to radiation or chemicals to create a non-specific but stable change.

Idso estimates that the likely increase in food production from 2009 to 2050 will be about 51.5%. Idso assigns 34.5% to Techno-intel and the remaining 17% to CO2 aerial fertilization. Note that the 51.5% is substantially less than the 70 to 100% increase believed by many experts to be needed.


Idso tables the results for the World, the Regions and the Sub Regions.  The calculated food supply has two cases.  Case 1 assumes that the increase in food supply is due only to Techno-intel.  Case 2 assumes that the increase is a result of both Techno-intel AND CO2 aerial fertilization.

World food supplies in 2050 will not be secure in Case 1 nor in the enhanced case 2.  For the Regions, Europe has a secure food source in Case 1 as well as Case 2. This can be explained by the expectation that Europe is the only Region where the population declines.  Africa, Asia, North America, Oceania and South America do not have secure foods supplies in Case 1.  In Case 2, Africa, Asia and Oceania  still do not have food source security.   North America and South America get a “maybe” in Case 2 as regard their food security.

Idso sums it up this way:

It is clear from the results obtained above that a global food security crisis is indeed looming on the horizon. If population projections and estimates of the amounts of additional food needed to feed the rising population of the planet prove correct, humanity will still fall short of being able to adequately feed the 9.1 billion persons expected to be inhabiting the Earth in the year 2050, even utilizing all yield-enhancing benefits associated with technological and intelligence advancements plus the aerial fertilization effect of Earth’s rising atmospheric CO2 content.

So what can be done to deal with the projected food production shortfall? Based on the results described above, there are only three possible avenues to achieving food security in the future: (1) greater gains must be achieved in the techno-intel sector than presently forecasted, (2) benefits from atmospheric CO2 enrichment must be increased, or (3) world population growth must be slowed to reach a lesser value by 2050.

Abstracting Dr. Idso’s report is a perilous undertaking.   The report is 43 pages and this posting is about one tenth that size.  Such reduction can introduce errors or poor assumptions that are not in the full report and can only be chalked-up to me.

Idso’s report  indicates that the world will be better served to have a goodly supply of atmospheric CO2 that can do aerial fertilization of the World’s food supply.  As a skeptic of the CO2 theory of run-away global warming, I can comfortably support the idea that atmospheric CO2 has more benefits than drawbacks.  Further, GM crops are a major benefit.   I like this comment by Borlaug regarding critics of his work:

“some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels…If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things”.[54]


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