Barley sprayed with pesticide Christopher Pillitz/Getty Images

How to Feed the World

Great progress has been made in humanity’s fight against hunger, which has shaped nearly every major society in history. But, to win the battle once and for all, the world needs more investment in agricultural R&D to boost productivity.

PRAGUE – Hunger has wracked humanity since time immemorial. Nearly every major society has been shaped by famine; one estimate suggests that China suffered drought or flood-induced starvation in at least one province almost every year from 108 BC to 1911. Yet the struggle against hunger is a battle that humanity could finally win.

More cereals were produced annually in the last quarter of the twentieth century than in any preceding period, and more grain will be harvested this year than at any time in history. Since 1992, the number of hungry people worldwide has plummeted by more than 200 million, even as the human population grew by nearly two billion.

But enormous challenges remain. Affordable, nutritious food is one of people’s top priorities everywhere, and one in nine people still do not get enough food to be healthy. With today’s population of 7.3 billion expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050, food demand will increase accordingly. Along with more mouths to feed, stresses on food supplies will include conflicts, economic volatility, extreme weather events, and climate change.