Do we have the capability to feed the world?

February 14, 2011
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Shortly after the ink was dry on last week’s column, I picked up my recent copy of Furrow, a magazine published by John Deere Co.

The most recent issue is dedicated to food supply and the projection of the world population is expected to double by 2050. Since I would be entering my 90s if I am still here, it would be easy for me to say “who cares?”

However, with a cover giving such an ominous warning, “Serving 9,000,000,000; can the world be ready by 2050?”, I just could not resist.

Depending on your source, farmers produce about 4,600 calories of food daily for each person on earth today. Given that the average adult should only consume 2,000 calories per day, we produce enough food for the 2050 projected population.

But production of food is not the problem.

So what is the problem?

First, we must admit there is a bit of waste, so 100 percent of the 4,600 calories might not be available.

The larger problems are politics and distribution.

When you get into the developing world, we need to take a little different approach.

A great deal of effort has been geared to supplying food to these nations. While that is a great short-term approach, the long-term approach has to focus on domestic production.

Like the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for the rest of his life.”

Distribution is a huge obstacle in many places in the world. Even when we can get food stocks into their ports, it is extremely difficult to get the food to the people. Living here, we take our roads and railroads for granted.

In many other places, the distribution systems depend on donkeys or other beasts of burden once you get out of the larger cities.

The other lesson we should have learned is government corruption runs rampant. Food is power and is wielded like a weapon by certain power brokers in countries around the globe. That’s why you hear such terms as “food insecurity.”

In our country, we are really only concerned about food safety.

Another one of the 800-hundred-pound gorillas in the room is the energy policy.

Will food shortages or reduced grain stores cause a shift away from things like corn-based ethanol production?

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I can tell you on the production side, the United States has been at the forefront of food production for more than 50 years.

The last remark I will add is we need to be very careful when we start making recommendations because we often want to see changes made where they affect us the least.

Remember to look at the big picture.

While the U.S. produces 18 percent of the world’s food, we only boast 4.52 percent of the world’s population.

That’s food for thought.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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