Agriculture: World Food Supplies

World Food Supplies
World Food Supplies

Soil types, topography, climate, socioeconomics, dietary preferences, stages in agricultural development, and governmental policies combine to give a distinctive personality to regional agricultural characteristics and, hence, food supplies in various areas of the world.

All living things need food to live, grow, work, and survive. Almost all foods that humans consume come from plants and animals. Not all of earth’s people eat the same foods, however. The types, combinations, and amounts of food consumed by different peoples depend upon historic, socioeconomic, and environmental factors.

History of Food Consumption

Early in human history, people ate what they could gather or scavenge. Later, people ate what they could plant and harvest and the products of animals they could domesticate. Modern people eat what they can grow, raise, or purchase.

Their diets or food composition is determined by income, local customs, religion or food biases, and advertising. There is a global food market, and many people can select what they want to eat and when they eat it according to the prices they can pay and what is available.

Historically, in places where food was plentiful, accessible, and inexpensive, humans devoted less time to basic survival needs and more time to activities that led to human progress and enjoyment of leisure.

Despite a modern global food system, instant telecommunications, the United Nations, and food surpluses in some places, however, the problem of providing food for everyone on earth has not been solved.

In 1996 leaders from 186 countries gathered in Rome and agreed to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world by the year 2015. United Nations data for 1998 revealed that more than 790 million people in the developing parts of the world did not have enough food to eat. This is more people than the total population of North America and Europe at that time.

The number of undernourished people has been decreasing since 1990. Still, at the current pace of hunger reduction in the world, 600 million people will suffer from "acute food insecurity" and go to sleep hungry in 2015. Despite efforts being made to feed the world, outbreaks of food deficiencies, mass starvation, and famine are a certainty in the twenty-first century.

World Food Source Regions

World Food Source Regions - North America
World Food Source Regions - North America

Agriculture and related primary food production activities, such as fishing, hunting, and gathering, continue to employ more than one-third of the world’s labor force. Agriculture’s relative importance in the world economic system has declined with urbanization and industrialization, but it still plays a vital role in human survival and general economic growth.

Demands on agriculture in the twenty-first century include supplying food to an increasing world population of nonfood producers as well as producing food and nonfood crude materials for industry.

Soil types, topography, weather, climate, socio-economic history, location, population pressures, dietary preferences, stages in modern agricultural development, and governmental policies combine to give a distinctive personality to regional agricultural characteristics.

Two of the most productive food-producing regions of the world are North America and Europe. Countries in these regions export large amounts of food to other parts of the world.

North America is one of the primary food-producing and food-exporting continents. After 1940 food output generally increased as cultivated zacreage declined. Progress in improving the quantity and quality of food production is related to mechanization, chemicalization, improved breeding, and hybridization. Food output is limited more by market demands than by production obstacles.

Western Europe, although a basic food-deficit area, is a major producer and exporter of high-quality foodstuffs. After 1946 its agriculture became more profit-driven. Europe’s agricultural labor force grew smaller, its agriculture became more mechanized, its farm sizes increased, and capital investment per acre increased.

Foods from Plants

Foods from Plants
Foods from Plants
Most basic staple foods come from a small number of plants and animals. Ranked by tonnage produced, the most important food plants throughout the world are wheats, corn, rice, potatoes, cassava, barley, soybeans, sorghums and millets, beans, peas and chickpeas, and peanuts. Wheat and rice are the most important plant foods.

More than one-third of the world’s cultivated land is planted with these two crops. Wheat is the dominant food staple in North America, Western and Eastern Europe, northern China, the Middle East, and North Africa. Rice is the dominant food staple in southern and eastern Asia.

Corn, used primarily as animal food in developed nations, is a staple food in Latin America and southeast Africa. Potatoes are a basic food in the highlands of South America and in Central and Eastern Europe.

Cassava is a tropical starch-producing root crop of special dietary importance in portions of lowland South America, the west coast countries of Africa, and sections of South Asia. Barley is an important component of diets in North African, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European countries.

Soybeans are an integral part of the diets of those who live in eastern, southeastern, and southern Asia. Sorghums and millets are staple subsistence foods in the savanna regions of Africa and South Asia, while peanuts are a facet of dietary mixes in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America.

The World’s Growing Population

The World’s Growing Population - Adjacent to Hachikō Plaza is arguably one of the coolest intersections you will ever see in your life. The sheer energy of the place is enough to stop you dead in your tracks while you loudly proclaim to yourself, ‘Wow – I’m in Tokyo!’
The World’s Growing Population

The problem of feeding the world is compounded by the fact that population was increasing at a rate of nearly 80 million persons per year at the end of the twentieth century. That rate of increase is roughly equivalent to adding a country the size of Germany to the world every year. Compounding the problem of feeding the world are population redistribution patterns and changing food consumption standards.

By 2001, the world had exceeded the six billion mark, and the world population was projected to reach approximately ten billion people by 2050—four billion people more than were on the earth in 2000. Most of the increase in world population was expected to occur within the developing nations.


Along with an increase in population in developing nations is massive urbanization. City dwellers are food consumers, not food producers. The exodus of young men and women from rural areas has given rise to a new series of megacities, most of which are in developing countries. By the year 2015, twenty-six cities in the world are expected to have populations of ten million people or more.

When rural dwellers move to cities, they tend to change their dietary composition and food-consumption patterns. Qualitative changes in dietary consumption standards are positive, for the most part, and are a result of educational efforts of modern nutritional scientists working in developing countries. During the last four decades of the twentieth century, a tremendous shift took place in overall dietary habits.

Dietary changes and consumption trends have contributed to a decrease in child mortality, an increase in longevity, and a greater resistance to disease. This globalization of people’s diets has resulted in increased demands for higher quality, greater quantity, and more nutritious basic foods.


Humanity is entering a time of volatility in food production and distribution. The world will produce enough food to meet the demands of those who can afford to buy food. In many countries, however, food production is unlikely to keep pace with increases in the demand for food by growing populations.

The food gap—the difference between production and demand—could more than double in the first three decades of the twenty-first century. Such a development would increase the dependence of developing countries on food imports. About 90 percent of the rate of increase in aggregate food demand in the early twenty-first century is expected to be the result of population increases.

Factors that could lead to larger fluctuations in food availability include weather variations, such as those induced by El Niño and climatic change, the growing scarcity of water, civil strife and political instability, and declining food aid.