You don’t have to look very far to see that there is a war going on over the future of food. The antagonist, of course, is hunger. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, more than 840 million people suffer from chronic hunger worldwide. That’s about 12 percent of the global population, or one in eight people, and while this number has declined over the past two decades, hunger has claimed and continues to claim more casualties than any other conflict in history. More than 7.6 million people are expected to die of hunger this year.
Although the vast majority — as much as 98 percent — of hunger issues are in developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia, food insecurity is not strictly a foreign phenomenon. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were 17.6 million (14.5 percent of the total) food-insecure households in America in 2012. These households fall into two categories, those with “low food security” and those with “very low food security,” both of which have grown in size over the past decade, primarily as a result of the financial crisis and Great Recession.
One of the primary catalysts of hunger has been the enormous growth of the world population over the past two years. The global population was estimated at about 1 billion in 1800 but now sits just over 7 billion, and while it looks like we’re approaching the top of an S-curve, the global population is still growing more than 1 percent per year; the U.N. expects 8 billion people by 2024. Moreover, much of this growth will occur in the developing regions where hunger (and its progenitor, poverty) is already most rampant. Left unchecked, hunger will only get worse as the world population — aggregate demand for food — continues to grow.
This means that achieving ubiquitous long-term food security will likely involve some sort of population control, but the problem doesn’t end there. Especially in the near term, changes to the way we supply food — and specifically the way we produce and transport food — will be necessary to end world hunger. This is where the protagonists in the war step in: the motley crew of farmers, scientists, and corporations that are the food and agriculture industries.