Purdue Climate Change Research Center

Global Land Use Change to 2050: Implications for Food Security and the Environment

AGEC 596 AGEC 596
Global Land Use Change to 2050 Global Land Use Change to 2050 Global Land Use Change to 2050 Global Land Use Change to 2050 Global Land Use Change to 2050 Global Land Use Change to 2050 Global Land Use Change to 2050: Implications for Food Security and the Environment
An interdisciplinary course to be offered at Purdue University Spring Semester, 2013
Thomas Hertel with the assistance of Uris Baldos Department of Agricultural Economics
Since the 2007/2008 commodity crisis, there has been a convergence of interest in the global farm and food system and its contributions to feeding the world’s population as well as to ensuring the environmental sustainability of the planet. This has underscored the vulnerability of the global food system to shocks from extreme weather events, energy and financial markets, as well as government interventions in the form of export bans and other measures designed to avoid domestic adjustment to global scarcity. We have learned that a “perfect storm” in which all these factors coincide can have a severe impact on the world’s poor, as well as putting considerable pressure on the world’s natural resource base. As we look ahead to the middle of this century, will the world’s land resource base be up to the task of meeting the diverse demands being placed on it?
The number of people which the world must feed is expected to increase by another 2 billion by 2050. When coupled with significant nutritional improvements for the 2.1 billion people currently living on less than $2/day, this translates into a very substantial rise in the demand for agricultural production. Over the past century, global agriculture has managed to offer a growing population an improved diet, primarily by increasing productivity on existing cropland. Can this feat be repeated in the next forty years? There are recent signs of slowing yield growth for key staple crops and public opposition to genetically modified crops has slowed growth in the application of promising biotechnology developments to food production in some parts of the world. How will this footrace between food demand and supply shape up in the next forty years? What role can agricultural technology play in alleviating potential scarcity?
In this context, the growing use of biomass for energy generation has contributed to concerns about future food scarcity. Indeed, over a two year period from 2005/6 – 2007/8, ethanol production in the US accounted for roughly half of the increase in global cereals consumption. To compound matters, water, a key input into agricultural production, is becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the world. Since irrigated agriculture accounts for 70% of all freshwater withdrawals worldwide and about 40% of world agricultural output, such water scarcity is likely to impinge on global food availability and cost.
In addition, agriculture and forestry are increasingly envisioned as key sectors for climate change mitigation policy – offering low cost, near term abatement of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet any serious attempt to curtail these agricultural emissions will involve changes in the way farming is conducted, as well as placing limits on the expansion of farming – particularly in the tropics, where most of the agricultural land conversion has come at the expense of forests. Limiting the conversion of forests to agricultural lands is also critical to preserving the planet’s biodiversity. These factors will restrict the potential for agricultural expansion in the wake of growing global demands.
Finally, agriculture is likely to be the economic sector whose productivity is most sharply affected by climate change. This will shift the pattern of global comparative advantage in agriculture and may well reduce the productivity of farming in precisely those regions of the world where malnutrition is most prevalent, while increasing yield variability and the vulnerability of the world’s poor.
In light of these challenges facing the world’s land resources, this seminar will explore the fundamental drivers behind long term shifts in the demand for, and supply of, land for agriculture, forestry and environmental uses over the next four decades.

Contact Information

Purdue University
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