Thomas Hertel, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics, said the prevalence and severity of global malnutrition could drop significantly by 2050, particularly in the poorest regions of the world.
Hertel and doctoral student Uris Baldos developed a combination of economic models - one that captures the main drivers of crop supply and demand and another that assesses food security based on caloric consumption - to predict how global food security from 2006 to 2050 could be affected by changes in population, income, bioenergy, agricultural productivity and climate.
According to the models, income growth coupled with projected increases in agricultural productivity could raise more than half a billion people out of extreme hunger by mid-century.
Income is also set to eclipse population as the dominant driver of food security, a "historical first," said Baldos.
Growth in income will allow people to increase the amount of food they consume and "upgrade" their diets by adding more meat and processed foods to staples such as crops and starches. The shift toward a diet higher in calories and richer in protein could lift many in hunger-stricken regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, China and Mongolia above the malnutrition line.
Globally, the volume of food consumed per capita could increase by about 31 percent. In developing regions with strong growth in income and population, consumption could rise by about 56 to 75 percent.
But these projections depend heavily on corresponding increases in agricultural productivity, Hertel said. Productivity is a measure of crop yields relative to the inputs used in producing them such as land, labor and fertilizers. Increased global productivity improved the availability of food over the last 50 years, but this trend must continue between now and 2050 to buttress food security.
The paper has been published in the Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.