As 2023 draws to its end, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its World Food and Agriculture — Statistical Yearbook, which reflects the changes in global food production in recent years. Farmers worldwide have made more out of less, and that need for efficiency will continue as we face a world asking for more and valuable nutrition.

The report highlights that the value of agricultural products ballooned 84% in just two decades from 2000 to 2021 to reach $3.7 trillion (USD). Much of that growth was in Asia. Even with those massive expansions, agriculture held steady through that time period in making up about 4% of global gross domestic product (GDP).

The land used for agriculture was 4.79 billion hectares (almost 12 billion acres) in 2021, down the equivalent of about 222 million acres since 2000. However, the global harvested area of primary crops — roughly half of which is defined as sugar cane, maize, wheat, and rice — was up 24% in 2021. Throughout those two decades, it was mostly consistent that about two-thirds of agricultural land was used as permanent meadows and pastures, while the remaining one-third was used for cropland. FAO said greenhouse gas emissions rose 10% during that time period, with half of the increase being attributed to the farm level.

Meat production was 53% higher in 2021 compared to 2000, with the majority of that growth made up by poultry, the most popular meat in the world. Pork ranks second in popularity, and beef is third.

Globally, milk production from cows and buffaloes grew 58% between 2000 and 2021. Asia produced roughly 44% of the milk during this time frame, and that is what drove much of the worldwide growth. “In particular, milk production in Asia went up 142% between 2000 and 2021…mostly due to the increase in India,” the report stated. India was the only country to produce more milk in 2021 (23% of the worldwide total) than the U.S. (11%).

The people component

In 2021, 27% of the global workforce was involved in agriculture. That translates to approximately 873 million people, FAO reported. That was down from the 1.027 billion people that were employed in agriculture in 2000.

“Yet, agriculture remains the second largest source of employment worldwide after the services sector,” the reported noted.

Of course, the core of this agricultural activity is to feed people. Global hunger, as measured by undernourishment, declined for many years before plateauing from 2014 to 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic then pushed the number back up. The number of people facing hunger remained elevated in 2022, although it was steady from 2021. “Between 691 and 783 million people in the world faced hunger in 2022,” the report estimated. At the same time, rates of obesity rose in all regions. Food security will remain an opportunity for global policy leaders as farmers continue their work to feed the world sustainably and nutritionally.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
December 28, 2023
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