29 August 2012

The sky is falling!

Amongst dire warning of pending global vegetarianism, the Guardian notes
"The UN predicts that we must increase food production by 70% by mid-century"
What on earth does that mean? Is that a big number or a little number? A little context maybe? Handily I've just finished reading Tyler Cowen's excellent "An Economist Gets Lunch," in which he notes:
"during the period 1949-1990, new technological innovations boosted agricultural productivity by an average of 2.02 percent a year. From 1990 to 2002, this same rate of improvement fell to 0.97 percent"
Where would those rates get us? By my calculation, we would need a roughly 1.35% annual rate to get to that 70% increase target by mid century. A significant increase on the present rate, but certainly achievable in the context of past gains.


(Note also that this is just pure productivity gains from technological innovation - meaning no additional land inputs required)

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