The Countries That Will Be the World’s New Breadbaskets

02 January 2019

The world’s population is forecast to grow by 30 percent to 10 billion people by 2050, bringing a sharp increase in demand for new food supplies. But in many developed countries, population growth is leveling out or declining, and these regions are expected to become increasingly important in helping to feed the rest of the world.

In countries that make up the former Soviet Union, populations are predicted to drop sharply in coming years, just as the efficiency of agricultural production booms. The number of people living in Europe, too, will begin to shrink by the 2030s, while agricultural output should continue to increase slowly. Such excess supplies, if they end up as exports, could potentially offset any food shortages that might emerge in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as quickly growing shortages of protein in China.

Global food security has become a growing source of concern among policy experts focused on agricultural planning and conflict prevention. Recent reports by international public and private organizations have highlighted rising numbers of undernourished people in the world and growing risks of food shortages in many lower-income countries.

In this Weekly Insight, Gro Intelligence takes a deep dive into the the issue of food security with a look at population growth forecasts and agricultural production potential in several regions of the world, including South Asia, Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Southeast Asia. In a previous Weekly Insight, we did a similar analysis of four other major consuming and producing regions—Northern and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and China.

For our analysis, Gro constructed predictive models that assume crop yields and acreage planted for production will continue to trend higher. We then factored in consumer demand estimates based on World Bank economic growth projections and UN population forecasts. The resulting models allow us to visualize broad trends in calorie and protein balances through 2050. The charts below show projected net calories and net grams of protein per person per day for each of four regions.

Inequities in food supplies exist, and in some cases will get worse. To keep up with demand, particularly in developing countries, will require advances on multiple fronts, including crop yields, transportation, capital investment, and data analysis. At Gro Intelligence, we design products that bring the power of the latest data science to bear on the difficult questions of how to produce and distribute adequate supplies of food.

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South Asia
Europe
Former Soviet Union
Southeast Asia
Summary

South Asia

South Asia’s population will continue to soar (left chart), with India expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by 2024. The region’s agricultural sectors should continue to produce surpluses in calories and grams of protein, but only by a narrow margin (right chart). The chart at right shows net calories and net grams of protein per person per day.
 

South Asia features a huge and dense population. India, the region’s largest nation, will surpass China in 2024 to become the world’s most populous country. South Asia has been broadly self-sufficient in food since the 1960s. The lightning modernization of Indian agriculture in that period, known as the Green Revolution, rescued South Asia from the historic episodes of famine experienced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Over the past 60 years, South Asia’s population has grown rapidly and agricultural production has just barely kept pace. Going forward, the supply and demand balance for calories and protein will remain slightly positive. The risk is that unforeseen events, such as a disappointing monsoon season, could quickly push the region into a food supply deficit, which in turn could impact global supplies.

Europe

Europe’s population is expected to begin declining by the 2030s (left chart). With an efficient agricultural industry and fewer mouths to feed, Europe should be able to increase the amount of food it exports (right chart). The chart at right shows net calories and net grams of protein per person per day.
 

The European continent has had slowing population growth since the end of World War II. Several Western European countries already have declining numbers and analysts forecast the continent’s total number of people will shrink for the first time in 2032.

Europe, where many of the technological advances of industrial farming began, boasts a highly productive agricultural industry. But the continent hasn’t become an export powerhouse in the sense that North and South America have and that the former Soviet Union seems about to be. While crop yields and livestock efficiency are among the highest in the world, the region must contend with mountainous terrain and cold climate in many areas. Europe also has led the way in moving toward more “organic” farming, eschewing such yield enhancers as genetic modification of seeds and foregoing more intensive use of fertilizer and pesticides. The continent’s supply balances for calories and protein will remain slightly positive. However, as population growth levels off and begins to decline, the world can expect Europe to export an increasing flow of surplus calories and a steady output of protein.

Former Soviet Union

Population in countries of the former Soviet Union is expected to decline sharply in coming years (left chart). But as the region’s agricultural production booms, excess food supplies (right chart) are expected to strongly boost exports. The chart at right shows net calories and net grams of protein per person per day.
 

The countries of the former Soviet Union exhibit some of the same demographic characteristics as Europe at large. A historical dip in population that began during the perestroika era and continued for a decade after the end of Communist rule was followed by a more recent climb in growth that is now leveling off. Analysts expect a decline in the region’s population to resume in the next few years.

Agriculture, meanwhile, is booming, helped by free-market incentives and a new openness to yield-boosting technology. Although large swaths of Russia and Ukraine enjoy excellent soils and growing conditions, Communist ideology and the practical constraints of the Cold War weighed heavily on farm yields and planted acreage in the past. Now, production is rocketing higher and catching up with performance improvements in similar, fertile regions of North America and Europe. Agricultural exports, which already provide significant help addressing food shortages in Africa and Asia, should continue to set new records each year. The trend will only get bigger, especially as China constructs its “New Silk Road” connecting Asian cities to ex-Soviet farm regions.

Southeast Asia

The number of people living in Southeast Asia is rising (left chart) and food production hasn’t been able to keep up (right chart). The chart at right shows net calories and net grams of protein per person per day. Still, the region’s growing prosperity should continue to fund an increasing flow of food imports to make up for shortages.
 

Populations of Southeast Asia are growing rapidly, and the region’s agricultural sector has had difficulty keeping up with consumer demand. The 2030s and 2040s are expected to bring slower growth in populations, and deficits in food supplies will narrow. The region can expect to be somewhat import-dependent indefinitely, but strong economic growth will enable consumers to afford to import what they need. Much of the growing demand is for dairy and meat from Australia, New Zealand, and increasingly North America.

Southeast Asian farms have made great strides in productivity in the past 20 years, but population has grown even faster. The region’s agricultural sectors have plenty of room to improve further, and have a ready consumer base when they do.

Summary

In Gro’s previous analysis of major consuming and producing regions, we identified huge and booming surpluses of calorie and protein supplies in the Americas, an increasingly alarming protein deficit in China, and small but growing deficits in calories and protein in sub-Saharan Africa. For the regions discussed in this Weekly Insight, we saw sizable and growing surpluses in the former Soviet Union, small positive balances in Europe and South Asia, and small but growing deficits in Southeast Asia.

Overall, the regions examined in this latest analysis give much less cause for worry than the previous ones. In general, we believe that excessive interregional dependency raises the risk of a negative outcome. A region that lacks a reasonable degree of self-sufficiency can be a failed crop or two away from famine.

Overall, our predictive modeling so far has shown that global balances of supply and demand seem healthy. But the geographic distribution of production relative to consumption could stand a great deal of improvement. The tough logistical challenge of getting food where it must go underlines the accompanying need for accurate, timely agricultural data of the sort that Gro Intelligence provides.

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