Feb. 22 2012 09:29 AM

We hear time and again that we'll need to feed 9 billion people in 2050. But what else will change in the next 38 years?

We attended the Illinois Agricultural Communications Symposium last week, organized in honor of the University of Illinois Ag Communications' 50-year anniversary. The daylong event started off with a long-term look from Johanna Nesseth Tuttle, vice president of strategic planning for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C. think tank. Tuttle spoke about topics outside of agriculture and gave us the seven macrotrends to watch.

Population: According to CSIS, the world will have 7.7 billion people in 2020, 8.3 billion in 2030, 8.9 billion in 2040, and 9.3 billion in 2050. Of course, the more people the planet holds, the more our resources will be stretched. The numbers also project that 2050 will represent a tapering off of the population growth. In 1950, life expectancy was 46.6 years. In 2017, it will be 69.3, but 2050 will add just seven more years to be 76.3.

The year 2008 also represented a big shift in the world; it was the first time more people lived in urban areas than rural, 51 versus 49 percent. By 2050, that will shift all the way to 70 percent urban and 30 percent rural.

Resources: Today, we make 5.3 times the food on only 1.4 times the input of 1910. We already have 925 million hungry people, with 65 percent of those in seven developing countries; China and India are among the group.

Today, there's a big difference in water use per person. Liters of water used per person per day:
575 United States
135 India
68 China

We'll need 30 percent more water by 2050.

Technology: One of the biggest changes in the world will be technology, as it affects everything else. Did you know that an iPhone has more technological firepower than the entire U.S. air defense had in 1955?

We now have 6 billion cellphones on the planet, up from 90 million in 1995.

Economics: Today's buzz revolves around economics with the U.S. debt and economy, the E.U. debt crisis, and the recent worldwide recession. The 800-pound elephant in all of this is China. But Tuttle reminded us that Asia isn't being born, it is returning to power. Tuttle explained that Asia has typically been a larger world power than it had been during the past 100 years.

Obviously, NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) has increased trade in North America, doubling it from 1999 to 2009. But in the same time, inter-Asian trade tripled.

Information, security, and governance are the three other trends to watch. Agriculture will need to keep up with all seven as the world progresses. But where that progress will come from and which country leads the charge is still up for debate.