Is there currently enough food in the world to feed everyone?
The answer is yes, but, in this guide we provide some more nuance and information on where the food we produce goes, and why people in the world still go hungry.
Summary – Is There Currently Enough Food In The World To Feed Everyone?
- We have 7.7 billion people in the world as of 2019
- As of 2019, the world produces enough food to feed about 10 billion people, or roughly just under 1.5x the current world population number (Huffpost.com)
- But, to be accurate – whether there is enough food demands a location specific answer – it depends on the country or local geographic region in the world being referred to
- Generally, low income and underdeveloped countries and regions have the most people that go ‘hungry’. This is mainly due to poverty, which leads to uneven geographic distribution and access to affordable food around the world
- Poverty is both a cause and symptom of economic factors like an unstable economy, lack of economic opportunities and growth, and unemployment
- Poorer countries and regions tend to have both small farmers operating with little resources and a lack of technology, and consumers with little or no disposable income (and very little purchasing power)
- With this being the case, even the food that is being produced in low income countries and regions may be unevenly distributed to wealthier countries who can afford to pay more for it
- Some agricultural land is even used for biofuels instead of food, and these alternate uses for agricultural land that could be used for food production further contribute to the hunger problem
- Wealthier countries might consume far more food per capita, and also waste far more food at the retailer and consumer stages than poorer countries
*Something to note is that having enough food in the world to feed everyone can depend on the criteria for feeding people, and the type of diet that is being assumed when providing total food production numbers. For example, adequate food could be measured in terms of calories, but could also be measured across different macro nutrients. Additionally, we know that different food diet types have different potential carrying capacities. Changing the type of food being grown and produced might change the amount of people that can be fed, and reduce the significance of factors that are currently contributing to hunger (this is just one example though).
What Is The World Population?
- In 2020, the world population is close to 7.8 billion people (worldometers.info)
Obviously though, the population in each country differs significantly.
How Much Food Does The World Currently Produce – Is There Enough Food To Feed Everyone?
- The world’s farmers produce enough food to feed 1.5x the global population.
- That’s enough to feed 10 billion (we are at 7.6 billion currently)
– medium.com, and researchgate.net
- … there is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone
- The world produces enough food to feed everyone.
- For the world as a whole, per capita caloric availability and food diversity (the variety of food groups in a diet) have increased between the 1960s and 2011 (FAO, 2017).
- This growth in food availability, along with improved access to food, helped reduce the percentage of chronically undernourished people in lower-middle-income countries from about 30 percent in the 1990-92 to about 13 percent two decades later (FAO, 2017).
How Many People In The World Go ‘Hungry’?
Food hunger usually refers to limited or unreliable access to foods that are safe and nutritionally adequate, but can also refer to malnutrition (undernutrition or overnutrition) in the case there is adequate access to food.
- The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 815 million people of the 7.6 billion people in the world, or 10.7%, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2016.
- In 2018, 795 million people were hungry.
- Another 2 billion are expected to join them by 2050
- … more than one-quarter of the planet’s 7.5 billion people suffer from malnutrition, and nearly 1 billion are chronically hungry
If There Is Enough Food In The World For Everyone, Why Do People Still Go Hungry?
- It is not due to a scarcity problem
- It’s mainly due to people being born in geographic locations in the world that experience poverty, low incomes, and a lack of wealth
- In poorer parts of the world, a few examples of this are that farmers lack financial resources and technology, and consumers lack purchasing power
- When consumers lack purchasing power and money in general, food will unevenly be distributed to those who can afford it
- Wealthy, developed and higher income countries tend to have an excess of affordable food … to the point that consumer level food waste is an issue (i.e. people can afford to have wasteful attitudes towards food, and even purchase resource intensive foods like animal meat)
- Some agricultural land is also used for other products such as biofuels rather than food. These biofuels might go to those who can afford it, whilst there is an argument to be made that land should be used for food to feed the hungry before it is used for uses like growing components for biofuels
- Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity
- A principal problem [with world hunger despite the level of worldwide food production] is that many people in the world still do not have sufficient income to purchase (or land to grow) enough food or access nutritious food.
- This is an element of “food security”
- The FAO defines four dimensions of food security, all of which must be fulfilled simultaneously, for food security to exist. The four dimensions are: 1) physical availability of food, 2) economic and physical access to food, 3) food utilization, and 4) the stability of those other dimensions over time.
- Almost all the [815 million] hungry people live in lower-middle-income countries
- As a comparison, there are 11 million people undernourished in developed countries
- [the world food system does not have a] scarcity problem [so, producing more food is not necessarily a solution]
- This is evidenced by the fact that for the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth.
- The causes are related to poverty mainly, and also inequality of food distribution [and other flaws in the food system]
- Developing countries have resource poor farmers cultivating on very small plots of land [which severely impacts productivity and the ability to produce higher totals of food that developed countries do]
- Developing countries also have poor consumers – living on less that $2 a day – who can’t afford to buy food [food can account for 50-70% of income for the world’s poorest people, and four-fifths of the world’s poor live in rural areas]
- [unemployment and underemployment are huge causes of poverty, along with a weak or unstable economy]
- [resource poor farmers and consumers stuck in poverty with little money = a food system that doesn’t work as well as developed countries where there is an excess of resources, money and food]
- The bulk of industrially-produced grain crops in the world go to biofuels [for vehicles] and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry
- Half the food in the world is produced by 1.5 billion farmers working small plots for which monocultures are unsustainable.
The Role Food Waste In World Food Production & Hunger
- 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted a year … This amount of food could feed around 3 billion people each year.
- That exceeds the number of all the hungry people worldwide by nearly 4 times!
- One in nine people do not have enough food to eat, that’s 793 million people who are undernourished.
- If one quarter of the food currently lost or wasted could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people.
- It’s estimated the world produces enough food waste — about 1.4 billion tons — to feed as many as 2 billion people each year.
- That’s roughly one-third of the global food supply.
- About 815 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy, active life, and nearly 25 percent of people in developing countries are undernourished
- In a world of 7 billion people, set to grow to 9 billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense — economically, environmentally, and ethically
- A lot of our food is produced in countries where the people don’t have enough to eat themselves.
- For example, most of the green beans for the EU market are produced in Kenya. This is a country where water is scarce and because of the bean farms many people and schools do not have access to water.
- It is particularly sad to realize that such precious resources are also wasted when we throw food away.
- Even more incredible is that wasting occurs in industrialized countries that account for only 15% of the world population but consume a majority of the world’s resources, especially from developing countries.
- The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) points out that if we tackled the problem of food waste, we could feed 9 billion people a day
- It is estimated that the food wasted by the USA and Europe could feed the world 3 times over
- Our inability to feed the entirety of the world’s population is mostly due to food waste.
- Globally, 30–40% of all food is wasted [in developing countries this happens at the farm and supply level, whereas in developed countries much more waste happens at the consumer level]
- … this waste [in developing countries] is due to lack of infrastructure and knowledge to keep food fresh. For example, India loses 30–40% of its produce because retail and wholesalers lack cold storage.
- In more developed countries, the lower relative cost of food reduces the incentive to waste. And as portion size grows, more and more food gets thrown out and wasted.
- … many developing countries lack a strong cold chain infrastructure [controlled temperatures applied throughout the supply chain, from refrigerated warehouses to refrigerated trucks]. The result: a majority of food spoils en route to its destination.
- Take the example of an open-air flatbed truck transporting tomatoes in a warm climate such as India. By the time the truck reaches a local market or grocery store, much of the crop has been damaged or destroyed due to the heat, or has even fallen off the truck. A closed, refrigerated truck would save most, if not all, of those tomatoes.
Something to note with food waste though is that not all wasted food is edible or can be recovered. Additionally, if most of the food is wasted in wealthier countries – there is a practical geographic challenge in redirecting wasted food to those who need it (from one country to another).
Other Potential Reasons Why People Go Hungry Even Though There Is Adequate Worldwide Food Production
worldhunger.org outlines these reasons for hunger despite the level of food production:
- Poverty is the main reason, along with the causes and cyclical factors related to poverty
- Political instability
- Food and agricultural policy
- A changing climate
More on a changing climate:
- In the future, climate change might do more to keep people hungry than inefficient food systems or food waste
- Climate change can impact yield in a number of ways – the US Midwest Region, Brazil and Indonesia are all expected to be impacted and have their corn crop yields decreased in the future by climate change
7. Eric Holt-Giménez, Annie Shattuck, Miguel Altieri, Hans Herren & Steve Gliessman (2012): We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People … and Still Can’t End Hunger, Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 36:6, 595-598. Available at – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/241746569_We_Already_Grow_Enough_Food_for_10_Billion_People_and_Still_Can’t_End_Hunger
14. Berners-Lee, M., Kennelly, C., Watson, R. and Hewitt, C.N., 2018. Current global food production is sufficient to meet human nutritional needs in 2050 provided there is radical societal adaptation. Elem Sci Anth, 6(1), p.52. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.310. Available at https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.1525/elementa.310/