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Education And Debate

Prospects for feeding the worldCommentary: Bread for the world—another view

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 09 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:988

Prospects for feeding the world

  1. Tim Dyson (, professor of population studies
  1. Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics, London WC2A 2AE
  2. Department of Public Health, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9PL

    In 1950 the world's population numbered 2.5 billion. In 1999 it is around 6 billion. It will be roughly 8 billion by 2025. And it could reach between 9 and 10 billion by the middle of the coming century. Arguably this is the most important development of our time, with immense implications for the global environment and the prospects for feeding the world.

    Summary points

    Population growth is the most important factor fuelling the global demand for more food to be produced

    The population of sub-Saharan Africa probably faces the grimmest prospects for receiving adequate nutrition

    The world trade in cereals must increase substantially to meet projected increases in demand

    The pace of increase in cereal yields is continuing with no signs of a slowdown

    The outlook for feeding the world would be improved if the growth in population decreased


    This paper addresses the prospects for feeding the world to the year 2025. It builds on the results of a two year research fellowship funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.1 The data used throughout were those provided by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the UN Population Fund. As well as analysing statistical data, the research involved talking to technical specialists and farmers throughout the world

    Population and food estimates

    In the early 1990s the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that there were roughly 800 million undernourished people in the world.2 Most of these people live in the developing world, mainly in the Indian subcontinent and sub-Saharan Africa. However, the organisation's estimate may be too high. The number was obtained through a tortuous statistical exercise which was loaded with assumptions. Also, an organisation concerned with food production may have a tendency to err on the side of overestimation. Certainly, in the past the organisation changed its criteria for …

    Correspondence to: M King, 1 bis Rue du Tir, Geneva 1204, Switzerland

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