World Agriculture towards 2015/2030

Tanja Folnovic

Agronomy Expert

World agriculture towards 2015/2030

In recent years the growth rates of world agricultural production and crop yields have slowed. This has raised fears that the world may not be able to grow enough food and other commodities to ensure that future populations are adequately fed. However, the slowdown has occurred not because of shortages of land or water but rather because demand for agricultural products has also slowed. This is mainly because world population growth rates have been declining since the late 1960s. But it is also the case that a stubbornly high share of the world's population remains in absolute poverty and so lacks the necessary income to translate its needs into effective demand.

As a result, the growth in world demand for agricultural products is expected to fall from an average 2.2 percent a year over the past 30 years to 1.5 percent a year for the next 30. In developing countries the slowdown will be more dramatic, from 3.7 percent to 2 percent, partly as a result of China having passed the phase of rapid growth in its demand for food.

World demand for cereals, 1965 to 2030


World agricultural farming can grow in line with demand, provided that the necessary national and international policies to promote agriculture are put in place. Global shortages are unlikely, but serious problems already exist at national and local levels and may worsen unless focused efforts are made.

Global progress in nutrition is expected to continue. The incidence of under-nourishment should fall from 17 percent of the population of developing countries at present to 11 percent in 2015 and just 6 percent in 2030. By 2030, three-quarters of the population of the developing world could be living in countries where less than 5 percent of people are undernourished. Less than 8 percent live in such countries at present. Priority for local food production and reduced inequality of access to food could improve this performance.

Sources of growth in crop production

There are three main sources of growth in crop production:

  • Expanding the land area

In the coming 30 years, developing countries will need an extra 120 million ha for crops, an overall increase of 12.5 percent. There is still potential agricultural land that is as yet unused. Much of this potential land is in practice unavailable, or locked up in other valuable uses. Some 45 percent is covered in forests, 12 percent is in protected areas and 3 percent is taken up by human settlements and infrastructure. At present some 1.5 billion ha of land is used for arable and permanent crops, around 11 percent of the world's surface area.

Cropland in use and total suitable land (million ha)


  • Irrigation and water resources

Irrigation is crucial to the world's food supplies. The projections for developing countries imply a 14 percent increase in water withdrawals for irrigation by 2030. One in five developing countries will face water shortages.

Irrigation and water resources, 1977-99 to 2030


  • Boosting yields

Yield growth will continue to be the dominant factor underlying increases in farm production in the future. In developing countries, it will account for about 70 percent of growth in crop production to 2030. The slower growth in production projected for the next 30 years means that yields will not need to grow as rapidly as in the past. Growth in wheat yields is projected to slow to 1.1 percent a year in the next 30 years, while rice yields are expected to rise by only 0.9 percent per year.

 Crop yields in developing countries, 1961 to 2030


Growth in fertilizer use in developing countries is expected to slow down to 1.1 percent per year over the next three decades, a continuation of the slowdown already under way. Overall, it is estimated that some 80 percent of future increases in crop production in developing countries will have to come from intensification: higher yields, increased multiple cropping and shorter fallow periods.