The challenge of scaling up food production to feed the world

The next revolution in food will be in making supply chains truly efficient, according to a new report.

Humans are genetically wired to feast when food is abundant. Over millennia, we have learned to gorge ourselves when there was plenty to prepare for leaner times.

It becomes a problem when food becomes ubiquitous, as has happened in parts of the world over 150 years.

For the first time in human history, there is a problem of too much, rather than too little.

Distributing that supply across the globe more evenly will be the key challenge facing food producers in the coming years, according to David Evans, head of agriculture at Morrison’s supermarket.

See also: Last year’s Temperton Fellowship report

Mr Evans chose to examine the scale of supply and distribution of food across the globe for his Temperton Report, entitled The Challenge of Scale for the Benefit of the Consumer.

In it, he makes the assumption that the population of the world will stabilise by the end of this century, at about 10.5 billion.

He also suggests per capita consumption will flatten out at about 3,050 calories a day.

Globally, that is equivalent to 25m tonnes of food every 24 hours.

But the challenge is not in finding ways to produce more, argues Mr Evans, instead in effectively distributing it.

Supplying demand

He points to poultry genetics as an example.

“As we near birds’ biological capacity, we need to think about the law of diminishing returns.

“Is it really worth pushing genetic progress further to increase productivity, or could these resources be put to better use elsewhere, for example disease resistance?”

Another example offered is focusing on the productivity of a farm as a whole, rather than just the potential of, for example, an individual wheat crop.

“This new era will be more about the food production and supply processes needed to optimise the resources we already have,” says Mr Evans.

That challenge will be compounded by the dynamics of population growth, more than the sheer numbers alone, he explains. Massive growth in developing countries, their rapid urbanisation and distance from where food is produced will all create headaches for food producers.

A ‘process’ revolution

Consolidating supply bases will be key to meeting demand, says Mr Evans.

“We can now produce enough food for a world of 10 billion people. The challenge is to ensure another one billion people do not face starvation over the next 50 years.”

As with the so-called green revolution, between the 1940s and 1970s in which production efficiency took a leap forward, there will now be a step-change in supply chain efficiency, says Mr Evans. This will be the next food revolution.


Mr Evans makes three key recommendations for those considering the supply chains of the future.

The first is that they provide food for all. It sounds straightforward, but without a secure food supply those without “will have little regard for broader society and the ecosystems that need to be fostered”.

The second is that food needs to be produced through economically viable, and resilient, supply chains. Without profit for the food producer it won’t be available for long, he argues.

A final consideration is the impact on the broader global environment and society.

“Unless we address the fundamental needs of society around access to food, it will continue to be a significant challenge.”

While this is the third point, it is no less important, says Mr Evans, it simply is not possible without the first two conditions in place. 

The mega city

As part of his research, Mr Evans designed a model “mega city” – an urban area with a population of more than 10 million people.

There 29 such cities, but the model predicts this will increase to 41 by 2030.

They will largely be concentrated in China and India, but are also expected to emerge in wider Asia, Africa and South America.

His model city is home to some 20 million people, is in Asia and has limited agricultural land.

Assuming per capita consumption of 2.5kg of food, it would need 50,000t of food every day.

“In volume terms, a year’s supply is more than the total UK annual wheat crop.”

The headline figures are staggering.

To transport this amount, 3,300 fully loaded articulated trucks would be needed every day.

A week’s worth comes to 350,000t – requiring 420,000sq m of warehouse space and would be worth about £700m.

Based on projected consumption rates, that equates to 3.6 million chickens a week – more than half a million every day – just for one Mega City.

* The Temperton Fellowship is an annual award to an industry executive to produce a report with strategic benefit to the poultry sector. The next report is to be prepared by Bruce Keith, who chair’s the Chartered Institute of Water and Environment Management’s International Task Group.