A picture of two women carrying water and a pumpkin.

Women farmers from Limpopo Province South Africa working with CSIRO to diversify and improve their farming systems.

Food security explained: issues for Australia and our role in the global challenge

The future world demand for food will place huge pressure on global food systems.

  • 17 September 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011

Population growth and dietary changes

Taking a world population rising from 6.8 billion in 2010 to over 9 billion by 2050, the world is facing something like a 70 per cent increase in food demand during this period. 

The increase in food demand is driven by population growth combined with economic development and diet changes driving changes in diet composition and consumption levels.

Graph of cereal yields, tons per hectare between 1960 and 2005.

Graph of worldwide cereal yields in developed and developing countries between 1960 and 2005.

Source: FAO data after World Bank (2009)

The global challenge

The global challenge will be to increase food production through raising agricultural productivity efficiently, whilst decreasing our environmental footprint.

Since the middle of the 20th century, global agricultural output has more than kept pace with a rapidly growing population. Between 1961 and 2008, the world’s population increased by 117 per cent whereas crop production rose by 179 per cent.

In many sectors of Australian agriculture we have seen an amazing period of productivity growth in the order of 2 per cent or more per year for 30 years.

In the developing world (noting that Africa is something of an exception), agricultural yields have almost trebled over the last 50 years.

Since the middle of the 20th century, global agricultural output has more than kept pace with a rapidly growing population.

Australia doesn't currently have a problem feeding its own population but has a humanitarian interest in food security and stability for developing countries. Australian agricultural exports support global efforts to achieve food security.

Global trade is important in the food security equation, because floods, droughts and other impediments make it impossible to exactly match local food production with the regional demand.

The role of CSIRO science

Australian research and expertise in eco-efficient agriculture can play and important role in the international response to global food security.

CSIRO is approaching the problem from two angles – firstly by working with Australian farmers to increase crop productivity and develop innovative management practices and secondly via our international work with developing countries and through international research collaborations.

CSIRO working with developing countries

CSIRO is actively partnering with agencies such as Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and AusAID to ensure the Australian agricultural science know-how contributes to improved food security in the developing world.

Australian agricultural science has developed in an environment of natural resource constraints – the skills, approaches and technologies developed here are very relevant to the challenges of developing world agriculture – in particular in Africa which has similar soils and climates to northern Australia.

Specifically CSIRO is playing an important role in assisting farmers in many Asian and African countries to develop technologies and management strategies to diversify and increase their food and fibre yield.

Read more about our international collaborations delivering food security solutions at: Partnering with international and Australian communities to create sustainable livelihoods.