Forecasting food

Green Grok has an interesting discussion of trends in food production.  Interesting not only for the geopolitical (life and death) issues, but also for forecasting purposes.

Dean Bill Chameides

Chameides begins by summarizing a classic rising curve: increasing food production over the past half-century.  He then offers a fine example of how to take apart an attractive model – check the items under “A Look Back at How We Got Here”.

Next, Chameides offers another forecasting model by referencing this recent paper. Tilman et al start their futuring by picking out major drivers (quantitative and qualitative demand) to determine a general future state (human food demand doubling by 2050).  Then they chart out multiple “alternative ways” by which planetary food production could get there.

They generate these alternatives through small-number choices.  For example, Tilman et al oppose “agricultural extensification (that is, clearing additional land for crop production)” to “intensification (that is, achieving higher yields through increased inputs, improved agronomic practices, improved crop varieties, and other innovations).

For another example, a focus on food production technology innovation leads to a quartet of options:

  • present day tech maintains through 2050
  • technology improvement occurs along recent historical lines
  • technology transfer happens (“underyielding nations were to overcome technological disparities by adapting and then adopting the highyielding technologies of Group A nations”)
  • technology improvement and technology transfer happen together

These and other choices are knitted together into four possible  “hypothetical trajectories along which agriculture might develop by 2050”.

Click for full size, really.

Some good methodological materials here.

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