Approximately three-fourths of the world’s hungry people live in rural areas and depend heavily on agriculture for their food and livelihoods. These areas often have a fragile natural resource base, with degraded soil, scarce water, and limited land. Policies on managing natural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, energy, property rights, and biosafety must be improved, and investments to sustainably increase productivity are critical.
The effects of climate change are increasing pressure on already limited natural resources in many parts of the world, which puts the 900 million poor people who do not have enough to eat at even greater risk. How can the world’s farmers meet the food demand of a growing population despite an unstable climate and other food security challenges? In 2010, IFPRI’s climate change experts and collaborators responded to this question with Food Security, Farming, and Climate Change to 2050, a research monograph in which the authors developed 15 different food security scenarios through 2050 based on alternative combinations of potential population levels, income growth, and climate change. CASE (climate, agriculture, and socioeconomic) maps—interactive online visualization tools—present much of the data underlying the report’s analysis and provide evidence that broad-based economic growth, improved agricultural productivity, and robust international trade can partially offset the negative effects of climate change on food security. To achieve these goals, increased public investment in land, water, and nutrient use and relatively free international trade are essential.
The Institute’s global change research also looks at energy scarcity and its implications for agriculture. In collaboration with Stanford University and an international team of researchers, an ongoing examination of the relationship between biofuels and food security shows that strong biofuel growth can occur in developed countries even without government protection and subsidies as long as product prices are competitive with crude oil, flexible-fuel vehicles have a significant presence, and adequate infrastructure for distribution exists. In developing countries like Mozambique, Senegal, and Tanzania, the familiar problems of poor infrastructure and low productivity in agriculture are likely to pose additional challenges to national biofuel programs. However, if appropriate investments and logistical efforts within the agriculture sector are made (and if governments are realistic about the high level of support necessary during the early stages of a program), promising possibilities exist that could benefit local farmers.