The modern food economy is much like climate change itself: global in scope, unprecedented in scale and constantly changing. The scale of modern agriculture is remarkable. Current production of cereals amounts to over 2 billion t of grain/year, roughly 15% of which is traded internationally. There are roughly 1.4 billion head of cattle, 1.0 billion pigs (over half of which are in China) and 1.1 billion sheep in global agriculture, and a staggering 17 billion chickens (FAO, 2005). The added value of agricultural activity has been estimated as roughly
US$1.3 trillion/year out of roughly US$36 trillion in global economic activity. In developing countries, more than half of the overall work force is involved in agriculture (FAO, 2005).
Even without climate change, the food economy in 2030 would look very different from today for a few key reasons. First is the expected growth in population, from roughly 6.7 billion people in 2008 to between 7.9 and 8.8 billion in 2030, with nearly all growth occurring in the developing world (United Nations Population Division DoEaSA, 2009). The second reason is the increased wealth among many of the historically poorer parts of the world, which is universally associated with increased consumption of animal products and reduced intake of starchy staples (Pingali, 2007). As a result of larger and wealthier populations, total demand for cereal production is expected to increase by roughly 50% between 2000 and 2030 (Bruinsma, 2003).
A third important demographic transition is the growth in urban relative to rural populations, with urban populations in developing countries expected to swell from around 2.5 billion today (or ~40% of developing countries' population) to around 4 billion in 2030 (~55% of the population) (United Nations Population Division DoEaSA, 2009). These relocations are important for food systems because urban dwellers tend to adopt more diverse diets, shifting away from traditional cereals and starchy staples into meat products, fruits and vegetables, and easy-to-prepare wheat products.
The fourth reason is that changes on the supply side, such as improvements in the physical and economic infrastructure in many parts of the world, are making it easier for agricultural goods to move within and between countries. With agricultural markets slowly liberalizing, and communication and transportation infrastructure improving throughout much of the developing world, trade in food commodities is expected to increase by 50% or more by 2030 (Bruinsma, 2003). As a result, any local effects of climate change on food production will be likely to be transmitted globally, with global effects in turn felt locally.
Finally, crop production technologies are continually evolving and in some places could even fundamentally alter the relationship between weather and crop productivity. For example, improved forecasts of growing season rainfall and temperature could allow farmers to adjust management to match the expected weather conditions. Deployment of existing technologies, such as irrigation, will also continue to influence crop production and its relationship with weather.
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