“Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
—The Food and Agriculture Organization’s definition of Food Security
Alarming reports on global food security have recently been released by several international public and private bodies. Led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), five UN agencies collaborated in September to release The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, highlighting their research which showed that the number of undernourished people in the world began rising in 2014 after falling for many years. Then in October, the Global Harvest Initiative, a consortium of agribusinesses, released its Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report for 2018. It showed that, without a sharp acceleration in yield improvements, lower-income countries will become increasingly dependent on food imports, and face growing risks of food shortages, in coming decades.
Thomas Malthus pioneered this sort of warning in 1798, noting that since population grew exponentially and production grew arithmetically, poverty and starvation were inevitable. History has proven him wrong again and again, as human ingenuity and industry defeated the seemingly inexorable coming scarcity. But Malthus played an important role despite his misguided forecasting. By outlining the nature of the threat, he helped innovators come to grips with the problem and design measures that would keep everyone supplied. The recent reports on food security could play a similar role.
It’s clear that if growth in population and incomes occurs as forecast, without improvements to the global agricultural system, shortages will follow. Even if improvements in production continue, but remain concentrated in the currently leading agricultural producing countries, logistical and financial issues could lead to severe local shortages in rapidly growing low-income areas.
For supply to meet demand, advancement on multiple fronts is required. Particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural businesses suffer from a dearth of capital, partly due to a lack of information to support investment. Outside of developed countries, farm and food data generally remains uncollected, unorganized, and unanalyzed. Gro Intelligence’s products increasingly address the information part of the agricultural-production conundrum. We bring the power of the latest data science to bear on the difficult questions of how to produce and distribute adequate supplies of food.
The following sections analyze food-security trends in several major consuming and producing regions of the world. By looking at these basic statistics, we can begin to see some potential solutions to the looming food-security problem and consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The charts show the surplus or shortfall of calories and protein grams produced versus demanded through 2050. We’re only considering calories and protein derived directly from corn, wheat, soybeans, rice, and cassava in this analysis. While there are numerous other sources of both, these crops especially dominate modern production methods. They provide the most well-understood paths to global food security.
Northern America, including the United States and Canada, has securely occupied the top rank of agricultural producing regions for the last hundred years. Modern agricultural techniques, such as the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), precision agriculture, and widely adopted mechanization, all made their first major impacts on food production in the US. As a result, Northern Americans, along with Europe, experience the lowest levels of undernutrition, less than 2.5 percent, and severe food insecurity, at 1.4 percent, in the world. However, even in these developed regions, food insecurity has risen from 1.2 percent in 2014.
Huge surpluses of both calories and protein allow Northern Americans to enjoy the highest per capita meat consumption in the world as well, reaching highs in the early 2000s and declining since then. It appears possible that a ceiling on how much meat people choose to consume has been reached. Livestock animals inefficiently use as much as seven kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of meat, so it is truly a luxury in an environment of scarcity.
Furthermore, Northern America diverts fully a third of its potential food calories into the production of fuel ethanol. From the charts below, we can see that Northern America produces about 12,000 extra calories and 600 extra grams of protein per person per day beyond what its population demands. The surplus goes to exports, ethanol, and meat production.
Over the past few decades, South America has moved decisively from calorie deficits to large and growing surpluses. This feat was achieved with tremendous coordinated effort from governments and private industry. South American soil needed to be significantly amended to raise its pH, as soils were too acidic. Roads and infrastructure needed to be built in order to transport harvests to export terminals. Farmers imported mechanical equipment and began planting the land. This process took many years. The South American example should serve as a warning to sub-Saharan Africa—modernizing agriculture can’t be done overnight.
In another possible similarity to the African situation, intensive cultivation in South America came at a steep, and rising, environmental price. Farmers plowed up millions of hectares of rainforest for soybeans and corn. The destruction has slowed lately, but continues.
South America made enormous strides as a continent since 2005, lowering undernourishment from 7.9 to 5.0 percent. But severe food insecurity has risen lately, going from 5.5 percent in 2014 to 8.7 percent in 2017, largely due to the humanitarian disaster underway in Venezuela.
Analysts expect Chinese population growth to continue slowing and turn negative over the next few decades. As crop yields continue to improve, per capita balances will move into the black for both calories and protein. China currently imports vast quantities of protein meal from the Western Hemisphere to service its booming meat industry. Despite a current national net positive protein balance, meat production’s unavoidable inefficiency has led to Chinese dependency on soybean exports from Northern and South America. Recent tariff disputes have put that massive trade deficit in the spotlight as China tries to source protein from alternate producers.
As China’s economy boomed over the last few decades, undernourishment declined as well. From a level of 15.5 percent in 2004-06, the prevalence fell to 8.8 percent in 2015-17.
With booming populations in developing countries practicing traditional agriculture, sub-Saharan Africa faces a daunting future without significant effort and investment. On the one hand, surplus regions of the world clearly can produce sufficient calories and protein for Africa’s people. On the other hand, import dependence on that unprecedented scale would pose a serious threat to both food security and survival. Supply lines from the Western Hemisphere to sub-Saharan Africa would be too long and complex to be fully reliable, and the consequences of disputes or errors could quickly be fatal.
It’s abundantly clear that the region needs to launch a titanic effort to “South American-ize” itself and get much closer to self-sufficiency over the next 30 years. Governments and private industry must immediately pursue every technique of modernization, including land reform, mechanization, GMOs, soil amendment, precision agriculture, farmer education, and better use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Although efforts are already underway, they are uncoordinated and desultory. The charts below make the outcome of the current lassitude coupled with projected population growth obvious: disastrous dependency on foreign production at best, famine at worst.
Sub-Saharan Africa holds the unwelcome title of world leader in undernourishment and severe food insecurity at 23.2 and 29.8 percent respectively. Both measures have deteriorated since 2005.
In some regards, this analysis may pessimistically overstate the sub-Saharan African problem. We’ve only considered the five biggest crops, and we’ve assumed that things will continue as they have agriculturally. The production forecasts here essentially use linear extrapolation, which almost certainly will be wrong. We can see from history that sharp productivity transitions occur, and the African farm industry could change even faster than the South American one did due to improvements in technology since then.
But there’s no question that progress needs to accelerate drastically right away. Gro Intelligence’s application of cutting-edge data techniques can open the door for skittish yet eager capital to move into sub-Saharan African agriculture and finance the next great wave of innovation. Without adequate data, investment will remain sluggish, and it won’t be enough to build the industry that Africa needs. It’s a heavy lift, and Gro can help get it started.
Receive our research in your inbox
Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter!
What Information Do We Collect?
The information we gather enables us to personalize, improve and continue to operate the Services. We collect the following types of information from our users.
IP Address Information and Other Information Collected Automatically:
· We automatically receive and record information from your web browser when you interact with the Services, including your IP address and cookie information. This information is used for fighting spam/malware and also to facilitate collection of data concerning your interaction with the Services (e.g., what links you have clicked on).
· Generally, the Services automatically collect usage information, such as the number and frequency of visitors to the Site. We may use this data in aggregate form, that is, as a statistical measure, but not in a manner that would identify you personally. This type of aggregate data enables us and third parties authorized by us to figure out how often individuals use parts of the Services so that we can analyze and improve them.
Information Collected Using Cookies:
· Most browsers have an option for turning off the cookie feature, which will prevent your browser from accepting new cookies, as well as (depending on the sophistication of your browser software) allowing you to decide on acceptance of each new cookie in a variety of ways.
We collect statistical information about how users collectively use the Services (“Aggregate Information”). Some of this information may be derived from Personal Information. This statistical information is not Personal Information and cannot be tied back to you or your web browser.
How, and With Whom, Is My Information Shared?
IP Address Information:
Information You Elect to Share:
We share Aggregate Information with our partners, service providers and other persons with whom we conduct business. We share this type of statistical data so that our partners can understand how and how often people use our Services and their services or websites, which facilitates improving both their services and how our Services interface with them. In addition, these third parties may share with us non-private, aggregated or otherwise non Personal Information about you that they have independently developed or acquired.
Information Shared with Our Agents:
We employ and contract with people and other entities that perform certain tasks on our behalf and who are under our control (our “Agents”). We may need to share Personal Information with our Agents in order to provide products or services to you. Unless we tell you differently, our Agents do not have any right to use Personal Information or other information we share with them beyond what is necessary to assist us. You hereby consent to our sharing of Personal Information with our Agents.
Information Disclosed Pursuant to Business Transfers:
In some cases, we may choose to buy or sell assets. In these types of transactions, user information is typically one of the transferred business assets. Moreover, if we, or substantially all of our assets, were acquired, or if we go out of business or enter bankruptcy, user information would be one of the assets that is transferred or acquired by a third party. You acknowledge that such transfers may occur, and that any acquirer of us or our assets may continue to use your Personal Information as set forth in this policy.
Information Disclosed for Our Protection and the Protection of Others:
Information We Share With Your Consent:
Except as set forth above, you will be notified when your Personal Information may be shared with third parties, and will be able to prevent the sharing of this information.
Is Information About Me Secure?
We store all of our information, including your IP address information, using industry-standard techniques. We do not guarantee or warrant that such techniques will prevent unauthorized access to information about you that we store, Personal Information or otherwise.
What Information of Mine Can I Access?
You can access and delete cookies through your web browser settings.
California Privacy Rights: Under California Civil Code sections 1798.83-1798.84, California residents are entitled to ask us for a notice identifying the categories of personal customer information which we share with our affiliates and/or third parties for marketing purposes, and providing contact information for such affiliates and/or third parties. If you are a California resident and would like a copy of this notice, please submit a written request to the following address: 12 E 49th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10017
What If I Have Questions or Concerns?
If you have any questions or concerns regarding privacy using the Services, please send us a detailed message to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will make every effort to resolve your concerns.
Effective Date: March 11, 2014
b. You shall not (directly or indirectly):i. take any action that imposes or may impose (as determined by us in our sole discretion) an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our (or our third party providers’) infrastructure;ii. interfere or attempt to interfere with the proper working of the Services or any activities conducted on the Services;iii. bypass, circumvent or attempt to bypass or circumvent any measures we may use to prevent or restrict access to the Services (or other accounts, computer systems or networks connected to the Services);iv. use manual or automated software, devices, or other processes to “crawl” or “spider” any page of the Site;
v. harvest or scrape any Content from the Services;
vi. otherwise take any action in violation of our guidelines and policies;vii. decipher, decompile, disassemble, reverse engineer or otherwise attempt to derive any source code or underlying ideas or algorithms of any part of the Services (including without limitation any application), except to the limited extent applicable laws specifically prohibit such restriction;viii. modify, translate, or otherwise create derivative works of any part of the Services; orix. copy, rent, lease, distribute, or otherwise transfer any of the rights that you receive hereunder.c. We also reserve the right to access, read, preserve, and disclose any information as we reasonably believe is necessary to:i. satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request;ii. enforce these Terms of Service, including investigation of potential violations hereof;
iii. detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues;
iv. respond to user support requests; or
v. protect the rights, property or safety of us, our users and the public.4. Third Party Services. The Services may permit you to link to other websites, services or resources on the Internet, and other websites, services or resources may contain links to the Services. When you access third party resources on the Internet, you do so at your own risk. These other resources are not under our control, and you acknowledge that we are not responsible or liable for the content, functions, accuracy, legality, appropriateness or any other aspect of such websites or resources. The inclusion of any such link does not imply our endorsement or any association between us and their operators. You further acknowledge and agree that we shall not be responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any such content, goods or services available on or through any such website or resource.5. Termination. We may terminate your access to all or any part of the Services at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately. All provisions of these Terms of Service which by their nature should survive termination shall survive termination, including, without limitation, ownership provisions, warranty disclaimers, indemnity and limitations of liability.6. Warranty Disclaimer.a. You release us from all liability for you having acquired or not acquired Content through the Services. We make no representations concerning any Content contained in or accessed through the Services, and we will not be responsible or liable for the accuracy, copyright compliance, or legality of material or Content contained in or accessed through the Services.b. THE SERVICES AND CONTENT ARE PROVIDED “AS IS”, “AS AVAILABLE” AND WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF TITLE, NON-INFRINGEMENT, MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, AND ANY WARRANTIES IMPLIED BY ANY COURSE OF PERFORMANCE OR USAGE OF TRADE, ALL OF WHICH ARE EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMED. WE, AND OUR DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, SUPPLIERS, PARTNERS AND CONTENT PROVIDERS DO NOT WARRANT THAT: (I) THE SERVICES WILL BE SECURE OR AVAILABLE AT ANY PARTICULAR TIME OR LOCATION; (II) ANY DEFECTS OR ERRORS WILL BE CORRECTED; (III) ANY CONTENT AVAILABLE AT OR THROUGH THE SERVICES IS FREE OF VIRUSES OR OTHER HARMFUL COMPONENTS; OR (IV) THE RESULTS OF USING THE SERVICES WILL MEET YOUR REQUIREMENTS.7. Limitation of Liability. IN NO EVENT SHALL WE, NOR OUR DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, PARTNERS, SUPPLIERS OR CONTENT PROVIDERS, BE LIABLE UNDER CONTRACT, TORT, STRICT LIABILITY, NEGLIGENCE OR ANY OTHER LEGAL OR EQUITABLE THEORY WITH RESPECT TO THE SERVICES FOR ANY (I) LOST PROFITS, DATA LOSS, COST OF PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES, OR SPECIAL, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, PUNITIVE, COMPENSATORY OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES OF ANY KIND WHATSOEVER, SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES (HOWEVER ARISING), (II) BUGS, VIRUSES, TROJAN HORSES, OR THE LIKE (REGARDLESS OF THE SOURCE OF ORIGINATION), OR (III) DIRECT DAMAGES IN EXCESS OF $50.00.8. Governing Law and Jurisdiction. These Terms of Service shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of New York, including its conflicts of law rules, and the United States of America. You agree that any dispute arising from or relating to the subject matter of these Terms of Service shall be governed by the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of the state and Federal courts of New York County, New York.9. Miscellaneous.a. Modification. We reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to modify or replace any of these Terms of Service, or change, suspend, or discontinue the Services at any time. Your continued use of the Services following notification of any changes to these Terms of Service constitutes acceptance of those changes.b. Entire Agreement and Severability. These Terms of Service are the entire agreement between you and us with respect to the Services, including use of the Site, and supersede all prior or contemporaneous communications and proposals (whether oral, written or electronic) between you and us with respect to the Services. If any provision of these Terms of Service is found to be unenforceable or invalid, that provision will be limited or eliminated to the minimum extent necessary so that these Terms of Service will otherwise remain in full force and effect and enforceable. The failure of either party to exercise in any respect any right provided for herein shall not be deemed a waiver of any further rights hereunderc. Force Majeure. We shall not be liable for any failure to perform our obligations hereunder where such failure results from any cause beyond our reasonable control, including, without limitation, mechanical, electronic or communications failure or degradation.d. Assignment. These Terms of Service are personal to you, and are not assignable, transferable or sublicensable by you except with our prior written consent. We may assign, transfer or delegate any of our rights and obligations hereunder without consent.e. Agency. No agency, partnership, joint venture, or employment relationship is created as a result of these Terms of Service and neither party has any authority of any kind to bind the other in any respect.f. Notices. Unless otherwise specified in these Term of Service, all notices under these Terms of Service will be in writing and will be deemed to have been duly given when received, if personally delivered or sent by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested; when receipt is electronically confirmed, if transmitted by facsimile or e-mail; or the day after it is sent, if sent for next day delivery by recognized overnight delivery service. Electronic notices should be sent to email@example.com. No Waiver. Our failure to enforce any part of these Terms of Service shall not constitute a waiver of our right to later enforce that or any other part of these Terms of Service. Waiver of compliance in any particular instance does not mean that we will waive compliance in the future. In order for any waiver of compliance with these Terms of Service to be binding, we must provide you with written notice of such waiver through one of our authorized representatives.h. Headings. The section and paragraph headings in these Terms of Service are for convenience only and shall not affect their interpretation.Contact. You may contact us at the following address: 12 E 49th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10017.