Feeding the World to 2030 and Beyond: The Role of Groundwater
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Compared to the previous decades, the current trends in world commodity prices for food seem remarkably different in character, and appear to break the secular decline in real price levels that had previously been the expected norm. Looking forward into the future, a number of researchers project the continued elevation of world prices for agricultural goods above past historical trends, despite a leveling off in the near-term period from the current highs. The medium-term projections generated by the joint OECD-FAO modeling effort show that a prevailing tightness remains in most major agricultural markets, so as to keep price levels significantly above historical trends. While some see the reversal of historically declining real prices of agricultural commodities as an opportunity for the agricultural producers in both developed and developing countries, others remain concerned about the implications of high food prices and increased volatility in food markets on the welfare and well-being of vulnerable populations who consist of mostly net consumers of these products, and who largely reside in the poorest regions of the developing world. The challenges and increased stresses that face global food production and distribution systems, in the present economic climate, are particularly acute and pressing for Sub-Saharan Africa, where persistent levels of food insecurity already exist. To illustrate, roughly thirty-three percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa lives with insufficient food supplies and an even greater proportion, forty-three percent, lives below the international dollar poverty line. In this paper, we examine the role that groundwater plays in supporting agricultural production in key food-producing (and consuming) regions of the world (such as India and China), and the implications of scarcity-driven declines in production on food availability in those regions, as well as the rest of the world. We treat the increasing pressure on groundwater resources as one of several key drivers of change in a highly-globalized world food system, and examine a number possible entry points for policy intervention (both within and outside the water sector), in order to determine their effect on food prices and other market-driven outcomes. By comparing a baseline set of demand and supply projections to one in which we have simulated groundwater crises in key food-growing regions, we illustrate the contribution that groundwater plays in supporting the world food economy, and the dangers of delaying concerted policy action, in terms of its effect on future food prices and levels of malnourishment and hunger.