Note: This is the 1997 edition of UNEP's Global Environment Outlook. If you are interested in more recent information, please see the 2000 and 2002 editions.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global  Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 4: Looking to the Future

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Use of Land

Projected Trends

[ Caloric Intake | Demand-Supply Ratio | Intensification of Agriculture | Food Production | Land Use/ Land Cover ]

Caloric Intake

It is projected that, globally, nutrition will continue to improve. Figure 4.11 shows the projections for six regions with respect to caloric intake, indicating a convergence towards the diets in western industrial countries an average of 2,840 kilocalories per day per capita in 2015 and 3,000 kilocalories in 2050. Due to low (albeit increasing) assumed income levels and high population growth, improvement is projected to be slowest in Africa.

After 2050, food intake per capita is projected to slowly level off as the amount reaches the saturation point. There is an observed trend, particularly in areas with growing economies, of a shift in diet composition towards luxury and processed food products, especially animal products (which have a lower ecological efficiency). In developing regions, the share of animal products in the diet is assumed to rise by 30 per cent to reach about 13 per cent of the total caloric intake by 2015 and about 17 per cent by 2050 (Leach, 1995). In industrial regions, it is expected to remain stable at around 30 per cent. The required additional production for higher caloric intake and diverse diets would have to come from a combination of intensification (primarily increasing inputs), expansion (land conversion), and imports.

Demand-Supply Ratio (Import-Export)

Contrary to past experience, global food supply is likely to increase faster than global demand. In some major regions, however, particularly in Africa and West Asia, the need to import food in order to meet the demands for basic staples will continue and probably increase in the future (Leach, 1995). To offset this, more developed regions, particularly North America, Europe, and the former USSR, are projected to produce more food.

In large parts of Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, and Africa, current results indicate a gap between demand and supply by 2015. The continuing degradation of soils and the possibly insufficient access of farmers to technology might even increase the rate of land conversions and dependence on food imports. On the other hand, additional increases in productivity, notably in livestock management and production on marginal lands, could have the opposite effect. These projections are in line with the FAO 2010study, which indicates that the already large, current differences in self-sufficiency ratios between industrial and developing regions will widen still further (FAO, 1995b).

In the 2010 report, FAO indicates that the expectation that the world would now be on a firm path towards eliminating hunger and malnutrition has proved to be over-optimistic, despite the availability of adequate food at the global level. Studies by IFPRI for 2020 also project that the current uneven path in food security and nutrition is likely to continue (IFPRI, 1995). Table 4.4 provides the actual and projected amounts of food products required in developing and industrial regions and the world as a whole (Leach, 1995).

As discussed in the preceding section, climate change may also become a factor that has both negative and positive impacts on food production, as may regional disasters. These effects will differ by region.

Intensification of Agriculture

An agricultural transition to intensive but not necessarily sustainable land use is assumed. It is projected that in developing regions, cropping intensity will increase by 15-20 per cent by 2050, both for irrigated and rainfed agriculture. A slower increase, mainly to produce more food for export to food-deficient regions, is projected for industrial regions. This is again in line with the FAO 2010 report, which states that intensification in land use will continue, especially in regions where arable land is scarce, such as South Asia, West Asia, and North Africa (FAO, 1995b).

Improved yields have a greater impact on productivity growth than increases in cropping intensity do. Sustained increases in yield are expected up to 2050. With the exception of China, the yields in developing regions will not exceed those in the leading industrial countries today. It is assumed that the generally poor yield performance in Africa in the past will be improved.

Food Production

Global growth in agricultural production is expected to fall to around 1.5 per cent per annum. Table 4.5 shows the projected crop yields for wheat plus coarse grains in 2025 and 2050. It indicates a relatively higher increase for developing regions, although in absolute terms the yields are lower there. The strongest relative increase in yield is assumed to take place in the first 35 years.

Figure 4.12 indicates the amount of total cereals produced for 1970-90 (historical) and 1990-2050 (projections), based on information on demand (population, economy, and intake); self-sufficiency; quality of the resources (climate, land, water, and so on); and management characteristics.

Land Use/Land Cover

Figure 4.13 shows land use/land cover changes. Globally, agricultural land (for this study, defined as arable, pasture, and marginal land) currently occupies approximately 37 per cent of total land area; about one third of this 37 per cent is arable land (that is, used for cultivation). Agriculture's share of the land is projected to increase to 46 per cent by 2015 and to around 50 per cent by 2050, whereas the ratio between pasture and arable lands is expected to remain relatively stable over time.

These global changes mask quite distinct regional differences in land use changes. In industrial regions, agricultural land is projected to increase from its 1990 level by about 3 per cent by 2015 and 10 per cent by 2050. In North America, the percentage increase is 4 per cent by 2015 but only 2 per cent by 2050, while in Europe and the former USSR the figures are 4 per cent by 2015 and 18 per cent by 2050.

Developing regions, in contrast, show a projected increase in agricultural land area of about 33 per cent by 2015 and 45 per cent by 2050 compared with 1990. The lowest increases are expected in Latin America and the Caribbean about 10 per cent by 2015 and 20 per cent by 2050 whereas the figures in Asia and the Pacific are about 28 per cent by 2015 but only 24 per cent by 2050. In the latter case, the reduced increase is related to the limited options for further expansion of agricultural land. In Africa and West Asia, increases in agricultural area are projected to be much higher about 55 and 57 per cent by 2015, respectively, and 90 and 95 per cent by 2050. These figures include extensive use of grassland.

The large increases in the area of cultivated land in Africa and West Asia result from a very sharp rise in demand, but they presume only moderate developments in agricultural management and technology. In particular, it is assumed that traditional animal husbandry systems, which require considerable grazing land, will be continued. More elaborate traditional farming systems, requiring more inputs and better management but with higher output/input ratios, are highly likely to lead to far less dramatic land use changes by 2050.

In summary, to meet future food demands, a considerable extension of the area currently used for agriculture is needed, in addition to improvements in yields, unless more drastic changes take place in societies. It is projected that this extension will principally affect developing regions and some parts of North America, Europe, and the former USSR. In all areas, any extension of agricultural area is projected to occur at the expense of remaining natural areas.

The projected land use changes and associated intensification would have other significant environmental impacts. For example, if intensification (as the main driving force behind increases in productivity) is not managed properly, it has negative consequences for environmental quality. These can include land degradation, overexploitation of freshwater resources (for irrigation), pollution of ground water (with nutrients and/or pesticides), and increased demand for fossil energy and other resources (to make fertilizers, for example, or as energy for tractors).

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