WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Per capita income is set to eclipse
population growth as the dominant driver of change in the global food system,
said a Purdue researcher noted for his work on the economic impacts of global
trade and environmental policies.
Thomas Hertel said that while population and income will
remain the two most influential factors in determining global food demand and
cropland expansion, their relative importance will be altered.
“For the first time in human history, income will have a
greater influence than population growth on food security,” said Hertel,
distinguished professor of agricultural economics.
“While the global population is estimated to jump from 7
billion people to 9 billion in the next four decades, the rate of population
growth rate is slowing. Meanwhile, individual incomes are increasing in many
parts of the developing world, and with that growth will come more demand for
richer, more nutritional diets.”
Hertel is the founder and executive director of the
Purdue-based Global Trade Analysis Project, a network of more than 10,000
researchers and policymakers in 150 countries that aims to improve the quality
of global economic analysis.
Hertel spoke at the Research and Scholarship Distinguished
Lecture in Fowler Hall on the Purdue campus. He is the recipient of the
university’s inaugural Research and Scholarship Distinction Award, which
recognizes faculty whose recent research and scholarship have made a major
impact in disciplines outside of the natural sciences.
Higher incomes coupled with potential increases in the use
of cropland for biofuels production would require global crop production to
double by 2050, Hertel said.
Increasing crop production while maintaining environmental
sustainability presents a major challenge. For example, nitrogen fertilizers
have boosted crop yields, but nitrogen runoff into natural water systems can
take a toll on the health of lakes, rivers and oceans.
Rising average temperatures and a greater frequency of
extreme weather could also reduce yields, Hertel said.
“Agriculture will be the area most significantly affected by
climate change,” he said.
Adverse climate conditions, higher energy prices and an
increase in climate mitigation policies could combine to reduce cropland and
increase food prices, the professor said.
Hertel sees technological progress as the key to future food
“We’ve tripled crop production in the last 50 years,” he
said. “If we can continue to make that kind of progress, we should be
The potential for growth in production technology depends on
public and private investment in research and development, Hertel said.
“What we do in the next decade will likely determine how
successful we are in sustainably feeding the planet in 2050,” he said.