By Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Spoden
Global grain production is expected to reach a record high of 2.4 billion tons in 2012, an increase of 1 percent from 2011 levels, according to new research conducted by the Nourishing the Planet project for our Vital Signs Online service. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the production of grain for animal feed is growing the fastest—a 2.1 percent increase from 2011. Grain for direct human consumption grew 1.1 percent from 2011.
In 2011, the amount of grain used for food totaled 571 million tons, with India consuming 89 million tons, China 87 million tons, and the United States 28 million tons, according to the International Grains Council. The world relies heavily on wheat, maize (corn), and rice for daily sustenance: of the 50,000 edible plants in the world, these three grains account for two-thirds of global food energy intake. Grains provide the majority of calories in diets worldwide, ranging from a 23 percent share in the United States to 60 percent in Asia and 62 percent in North Africa.
Maize production in the United States—the largest producer—was expected to reach a record 345 million tons in 2012; however, drought in the Great Plains has altered this estimate severely. Maize yields for the 2012–13 growing season are now expected to decrease 13 percent from 2011 production, for a total production of 274.3 million tons.
The reliance on grain crops for food security is threatened by more-extreme climatic events, especially droughts and floods. According to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, the World Food Programme, and Oxfam International, some 375 million people will be affected by climate change-related disasters by 2015. By 2050, the FAO notes, 10–20 percent more people will be subject to hunger based on the changing climate’s effects on agriculture, and 24 million more children are expected to be malnourished—21 percent more than if there were no climate change.
The relationship between food security, grain production, and climate change is especially important in 2012. The recent drought affecting the United States and the rest of the world show the need to reduce price volatility, move away from fossil fuel–based agriculture, and recognize the importance of women farmers to increase resilience to climate change.
The drought taking place in the Midwest and Great Plains of the United States is considered the country’s worst in 50 years, coming close to matching the late-1930s Dust Bowl. The drought is expected to cost many billions of dollars and could top the list as one of the most expensive weather-related disasters in U.S. history. The global market will be most affected by this drought, as so much of the developing world relies on U.S. corn and soybean production. Food prices have already begun to increase due to lower yields, and price fluctuations will inevitably affect food security around the globe.
Further highlights from the report:
- The FAO expects global maize production to increase 4.1 percent from 2011, reaching an estimated 916 million tons in 2012.
- Global rice production achieved an all-time high of 480 million tons in 2011, a 2.6 percent increase from 2010.
- World wheat production is projected to drop to 675.1 million tons in 2012, down 3.6 percent from 2011, with the largest declines in feed and biofuel utilization.
- Since 1961, grain production has increased 269 percent and grain yield has increased 157 percent, while the grain harvest area has increased only 25 percent. This is due largely to the Green Revolution and the introduction of high-yielding grain varieties.
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