Publications — Water Footprint Assessment

The Past and Future of Food Stocks

by Water To Food Team

Human societies rely on food reserves and the importation of agricultural goods as means to cope with crop failures and associated food shortage. While food trade has been the subject of intensive investigations in recent years, food reserves remain poorly quantified. It is unclear how food stocks are changing and whether they are declining. In this study we use food stock records for 92 products to reconstruct 50 years of aggregated food reserves, expressed in caloric equivalent (kcal), at the regional and global scales.

A detailed statistical analysis demonstrates that the overall regional and global per-capita food stocks are stationary, challenging a widespread impression that food reserves are shrinking. We develop a statistically-sound stochastic representation of stock dynamics and take the stock-halving probability as a measure of the natural variability of the process.

We find that there is a 20% probability that the global per-capita stocks will be halved by 2050. There are, however, some strong regional differences: Western Europe and the region encompassing North Africa and the Middle East have smaller halving probabilities and smaller per-capita stocks, while North America and Oceania have greater halving probabilities and greater per-capita stocks than the global average. Africa exhibits low per-capita stocks and relatively high probability of stock halving by 2050, which reflects a state of higher food insecurity in this continent.