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Africa, Asia May Face Food Shortages by 2050, Group Says

Africa, Asia May Face Food Shortages by 2050, Group Says
Dried corn husks sit piled up in a field also used to grow wheat that has been dried up by drought in Shandong Province, China. Photograph: Keith Bedford/Bloomberg

Farming in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia will require more investment to meet food needs, according to a study sponsored by businesses including Monsanto Co., DuPont Co., International Business Machines Corp. and Deere & Co.

Sub-Saharan Africa will meet only 13 percent of its own food demand by 2050 without faster productivity growth, and East Asia 74 percent, according to a report issued today by the Global Harvest Initiative, which includes companies and nonprofits. North Africa and the Middle East will provide 83 percent of their own requirements at mid-century. About $79 billion in additional agricultural investment globally is needed to spur gains, the group said.

“The critical question, I believe, for all of us is how to make a sustainable difference to plug the hunger gap today and tomorrow,” Sandra Peterson, the chief executive officer of Bayer CropScience AG, said today in a speech at the World Food Prize conference in Des Moines, Iowa, where the report was released. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution.”

The world had 868 million hungry people in the 2010-12 period, and 20 countries have “extremely alarming” or “alarming” hunger levels, the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization and the International Food Policy Research Institute said last week in separate reports. About 75 percent of African countries are at “high” or “extreme risk” of unrest and famine stemming from food shortages and rising prices, according to risk-advisory firm Maplecroft.

Frequent Failures

Annual global water use that’s outstripping sustainable levels will make crop failures more frequent, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, supervisory board chairman of Nestle SA, the world’s largest food company, said in a speech at the conference.

The worst U.S. drought in more than 50 years pushed the price of corn, the country’s most valuable crop, to a record $8.49 a bushel in August. World food prices had their biggest monthly increase since 2009 in July and are up 2.4 percent for the year. Cost increases in drought years are aggravated by the increased strain on water supplies in more-normal periods, as less moisture is available to mitigate the effects of dry weather, Brabeck-Letmathe said.

Water Overuse

“In normal years, we are using the buffers of water that are needed in difficult years,” he said. Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestle and Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer aren’t members of the initiative.

Globally, productivity is growing fast enough to meet needs, and trade will mitigate some hardships, the authors of the study said. Still, the poorest regions will need bigger crops to ensure their food supplies, according to the report.

“The challenge is, we have to grow fast enough each and every year for the next 40 years,” Jerry Flint, chairman of the Global Harvest Initiative and a vice president for Pioneer, the seed unit of DuPont, said today in an interview. “The areas of the world where population is rising fastest have less gains in productivity.”

In Asia, changing diets will spur demand more than population growth, as increased wealth raises consumption of protein, according to the report. In Africa, the challenge will be feeding more people. Meanwhile, Latin America, a region that has experienced higher levels of hunger in the past, may emerge as an exporter, thanks to a pace of productivity that beats the world average, the study’s authors wrote.

The Global Harvest Initiative supports more spending on agricultural research, free trade and the adoption of genetically modified crops among its recommendations for increasing global food security.

The annual World Food Prize conference is held in Des Moines to honor individuals “who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food.” This year’s winner, Daniel Hillel, an Israeli scientist who pioneered “micro-irrigation,” was announced in June.

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