Demographers have officially stated that by 2050, the earth will be home to two billion more people. And the number of people flocking to metropolitan areas will have an exponential impact on world demand for food. Confronted with this new direction, the concept of food security could very well take on another meaning.
The world's population has always been primarily located in rural areas. And if the figures reported by FAO are right, the proportion tipped the other way in 2008 when the number of urban dwellers reached that of country dwellers, which remains static. This and other information has led us to believe that this will be a lasting trend (see chart). South-East Asian countries are primarily responsible for this new reality as more and more big cities are built and populated. In 2015, China alone will have some 90 cities with more than one million residents each.
"For hundreds of millions of people, food security will now be synonymous with facilitating worldwide trade"
As for emerging economies, urban migration is directly related to an increase in disposable income and, inevitably, to rising energy and calorie consumption, the latter coming essentially from processed foods. And as such, the population explosion in urban areas is no stranger to the return of coal as a form of energy, which may very well supersede oil as the world's main source of fossil fuel used in the production of electricity. A move towards urbanization also brings about changes in diet: the consumption of processed meats, fruit and vegetables, and dairy products proportionately increases. In some regions, such as South-East Asia and Africa, agri-food production cannot meet demand and increasing productivity will not fill this gap. These parts of the world and their dependence on agricultural food imports will become even stronger in the future.
In many areas, country-dwellers survive on subsistence agriculture and have only a limited impact on markets. As for city-dwellers, they are often more dependent on markets for food. Without necessarily denigrating urban agriculture and local agriculture, such endeavours will never be able to provide enough to feed the hundreds of millions of people living in cities worldwide. The larger production poles – of which Canada is a participant for grain and red meat – will be under even more stress to produce and foodstuffs will need greater distribution and circulation to reach large urban populations. For hundreds of millions of people, food security will now be synonymous with facilitating worldwide trade. This is a major trend that will proceed regardless. All we can hope for is that this increased trade be conducted in an orderly fashion.