Huge jump in meat use to fuel grain demand

by Emily Wilson
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Although the pace of growth in global grain demand is expected to slow in the next two decades, an enormous jump in meat consumption will drive up demand for grain in absolute terms, according to a new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute. The report, 2020 Global Food Outlook: Trends, Alternatives, and Choices, also projects that child malnutrition will decline by only 20% over the next 20 years unless more aggressive measures are taken.

"Progress in reducing child malnutrition is unconscionably slow," said Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director general of IFPRI. "It leaves 132 million children malnourished in 2020. Yet we have the power to change that. With modest alterations to policies and priorities, the rate of progress against child malnutrition could be more than doubled."

The report uses IFPRI’s state-of-the-art computer modeling to develop projections for food production, consumption and demand for 16 major food commodities through 2020 and beyond. It also assesses the impact of various policy actions, including trade liberalization and expanded investment in agricultural research, health care, and education, on food security and nutrition.

The report notes that cereal grain production in the past 30 years kept pace with rising populations in some nations, such as India. Many other countries turned increasingly to imports to feed their people, either because domestic production was too low or because income rose far faster than population, escalating demand for food and feed grain.

Argentina, Australia, Europe and North America responded with a flood of exports. The volume of cereals traded internationally more than doubled over 30 years to more than 250 million tonnes by the late 1990s, the report says.

Livestock consumed a growing share of cereal production during this period, as rising incomes in many parts of the developing world fueled a boom in meat consumption, particularly of poultry. Starting from very low levels, per capita consumption of meat in the developing world more than doubled from 1967 to 1997, with even more spectacular increases in the consumption of poultry.

Worldwide, prices for maize, rice, and wheat have each declined by 50% or more over the last 20 years, and consequently food has been available to satisfy the market demand for these commodities. Meeting demand, however, does not necessarily mean assuring food security.

Although developing countries will account for most of the increase in global demand for cereals, growth in their demand for cereals is not as rapid as it once was. As population growth slows and people in developing countries diversify their diets away from cereals because of rising prosperity and changing dietary preferences, growth in cereal demand in the developing world is projected to decline to 1.3% a year in the 1997-2020 period from 2.3% a year in 1974-97.

Nevertheless, the absolute increase
in the demand for cereals during 1997-2020 is expected to be as large as the
increase in demand during the preceding 23 years. Developing countries in Asia, because of their larger and more
urbanized populations and rapid economic growth, will account for half
of the increase in global demand for
cereals, with China alone accounting
for one-quarter.

Worldwide, demand for meat is forecast to rise by more than 55% between 1997 and 2020, with most of the increase occurring in developing countries. China alone will account for more than 40% of this increase, compared with India’s 4%.

Even though demand for meat will double in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, per capita consumption of meat will remain far below levels in the developed world. This gap suggests that people in these regions will have the potential to consume considerably more meat.

Poultry will account for 40% of the global increase in demand for meat to 2020, far higher than the 28% it accounted for in 1997. To fuel the explosive rise in demand for meat, farmers will increasingly need to grow cereal crops — particularly maize — for animal feed rather than for direct human consumption.

By 2020, with developing countries unable to fully meet their cereal demands from their own production, international trade will play a larger role in providing food to many regions of the globe. Fortunately, cereal producers in the Americas and in Europe appear ready and able to meet this demand.

The results of the report was a focal point at the Conference on Sustainable Food Security for All, held this month in Bonn, Germany.

IFPRI, an international think tank on food policy, seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI is one of 16 Future Harvest centers and receives its principal funding from 58 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations.

To see the complete report and related materials, go to the IFPRI web site at

— Melissa Alexander, editor