CSS3Pie trigger
Menu  University of Minnesota

The future of food production in 12 charts

More — and More Urban (Image 1 of 11)

With global population headed toward 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100, agriculture has its work cut out for it. More people will be living in cities in the decades ahead, foretelling a move toward diets richer in energy, salt, fat and sugar as higher urban incomes boosts consumption of processed food.

Richer People, Richer Food (Image 2 of 11)

As gross domestic products grow worldwide, the gaps between high- and low-income countries are projected to shrink. This will boost demands on agriculture as more money becomes available for buying food and more discretionary income makes room for diets richer in meat and dairy products.

Resources Under Threat (Image 3 of 11)

Expansion of farmland has leveled off in recent years. However, agriculture still is responsible for about 80 percent of deforestation around the world. The disappearance of forests, in turn, poses threats to drinking water supplies, biodiversity and climate.

Climate and Yield (Image 4 of 11)

Global climate change is expected to bring more droughts, floods and variability in crop yield in the decades ahead. A synthesis of 1,090 studies of changes in yields of wheat, corn, rice, soybeans and other crops points to a dramatic range of possible impacts, including both yield increases and yield declines. The overall trend, however, appears to be toward reduced yield, with the most severe harm in low-latitude, poorer countries.

Boom Bust (Image 5 of 11)

The world saw a tripling in agricultural productivity between 1961 and 2011, thanks in large part to the Green Revolution. However, growth in yields of major crops has slowed in recent years, and a number of variables — including climate change, technological and natural resource limitations — and inadequate funding threaten our future ability to keep pace. The FAO report suggests that public policy, investment and public-private partnerships are needed to keep yield growth on track for meeting future needs.

Pests Without Borders (Image 6 of 11)

As people and products move around the world, so do the pests and pathogens that plague crops. Already, insects and other pests claim a 20 to 40 percent share of the crops we produce worldwide, and the FAO report calls the growing ability of diseases and pests to breach borders “alarming.” As with human disease, the best medicine is prevention. Other options for stemming the loss include surveillance, improved pest management techniques, collaboration among countries and advanced preparation before problems arise.

Storm Surge (Image 7 of 11)

Since 1980, agriculture globally has been harmed by more frequent and intense natural disasters. In particular, the average annual number of severe storms has doubled while floods have more than tripled. Given agriculture’s need for predictable rainfall, the trends are worrying.

Changing Diets (Image 8 of 11)

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, not all food is created equal. Vegetarian and pescatarian diets have significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions than diets in which pork, poultry and beef are frequently on the menu. As the chart shows, food’s impact on the environment is likely to become more pronounced in coming decades as more people move into the middle class and shift to meat-based diets.

Youth Movement (Image 9 of 11)

The World Bank estimates we’ll need some 600 million more jobs by 2030 if we want to maintain 2013 employment rates. This is especially true in Asia and Africa, where most young people will live in coming decades. The FAO report highlights four pathways for young people to enter the labor market: work full time on the family farm, work part time on the farm and also work in off-farm household enterprises, do agriculture-related work for pay, and work full time in off-farm household enterprises.

Food for Sale (Image 10 of 11)

One of the greatest trends reshaping the world is increasing urbanization. As more and more people move into cities, options for where to purchase food are expanding, too. Large supermarkets dominate North America, while more traditional markets are common venues for purchasing produce in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Going to Waste (Image 11 of 11)

Nearly one-third of all food produced globally each year is either lost or wasted. In sub-Saharan Africa, most food loss occurs during harvest and post-harvest (e.g., storage and transport). The issue is rising in global concern, though, and reducing food loss and waste have been a focus of both the U.N. secretary general and the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development in recent years.


What will agriculture be called upon to accomplish in the decades ahead? How well is it prepared to answer that call? In its new report, “The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges,” the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations calls out 15 trends influencing food production’s trajectory today. It then derives from those trends 10 key challenges we’ll need to address to meet future food needs and calls on the global community to pursue the “transformative change” needed to respond to the trends, address the challenges and, ultimately, meet the food and nutrition needs of people while protecting the planetary infrastructure that makes it all possible. The 12 charts above illustrate some of the trends highlighted in the report.

Add Your Comments
  • mike H Jun. 25th, 2017
    These graphs lose clarity when enlarged - can you post again in another format?
  • Todd Reubold Jun. 27th, 2017
    Hi, Mike. They appear to be in focus on a desktop computer (Mac/Firefox browser). Can you please let us know how you're viewing the images and we'll do some troubleshooting? Thanks.
  • gethealthinformation Feb. 3rd, 2021
    Thank you for sharing this valuable metrics data on food and agriculture.
Post a Comment

You care about environmental issues. So do we!

Sign up now for our bi-weekly newsletter and you'll get the latest stories from Ensia delivered straight to your inbox.

You're in! Watch your email soon for stories that build awareness and understanding of urgent environmental problems — and promising solutions to those problems.

Share This