The Challenge of Feeding the World While Preserving Natural Resources: Findings of a Global Bioeconomic Model

  • Timothy S. ThomasEmail author
  • Shahnila Dunston


In this chapter, we use a modeling approach to answer the question concerning how population growth, income growth, and climate change might affect the ability of the world’s farmers to produce enough food for the planet through the year 2050. We also ask how much the cost will be in terms of land taken from forests and other natural vegetation to be used as cropland. In the analysis, we take into account productivity gains due to technological advances (such as more productive seeds) and changes in input intensity in response to changes in commodity prices.

We discover that climate change creates a drag on productivity increase, resulting in the need to convert more land to agricultural uses. Yet the increase in cropland due strictly to climate change in 2050 will be only 0.8–1.5% of current cropland. More than 80% of the land converted to cropland by 2050 will be due to increased demands from a larger, wealthier population rather than from a changing climate. The greatest percentage increases in cropland will occur in Africa and Latin America, while the largest percentage change in cropland from climate change alone will be in Latin America.

While climate change will lead to an increase in malnutrition and result in lower food security, projected growth in income and overall agricultural production will lead to a decrease in malnutrition that is of greater magnitude than the increase from climate change.

The model presented in this chapter extends to 2050. If greenhouse gas emissions continue at a relatively high rate, the impact of climate change on food and agriculture should increase greatly in the latter half of the century. Therefore, while the outcomes presented in this chapter suggest modestly negative effects by 2050, the threat that climate change presents to global food security should not be discounted for the longer term.



Funding for this work from the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is gratefully acknowledged, and the chapter draws on work supported by both organizations as well as the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The views expressed here are those of the authors, and may not be attributed to the funding organizations or any other entity.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)Washington, DCUSA

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