Eight billion people need a lot of protein

April 24, 2023

The world's population, now hovering at eight billion, needs a hefty amount of protein. United Soybean Board Market Intelligence Vice-President Mac Marshall, referring to the agriculture supply balance sheets from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, puts that in weighty terms.

“The daily supply of protein needed to feed this planet on a per-person basis is about 83 grams per person. Now that’s what's being consumed; that’s what’s basically needed on the supply side,” said Marshall. “So that means, across the whole planet, every day, we need just over 660 billion grams of protein.”

For those who avoid the metric system, that many grams are almost one-and-a-half billion pounds of protein, animal and vegetable. Marshall, during an interview for a story in the magazine American Soybean, looked ahead to the year 2050, when, if the current growth trend continues, the globe’s population will have swollen by another 20 percent. “That means,” he said, “that that supply share is going to grow by another nearly 150 billion grams of protein daily.” That brings us to more than 888,000 tons of daily global protein demand by 2050. Back to the present, Marshall says the war in Ukraine and other geopolitical issues have resulted in the number of food-insecure people climbing to 1.6 billion globally. The implication is that responsibility is increasing on able counties to be food suppliers for those countries that are less able to produce enough food to feed themselves.

“Turning the lens back to the U.S., where we’re an incredibly fortunate and prosperous nation, we have, I would say, the best farmers on earth, a very resilient food supply system, one that has for a long time enabled us to produce an exportable surplus and supply our partners and customers around the globe,” said Marshall, “the importance of that really comes back into plain view.”

Marshall says he’s optimistic a tendency toward global collaboration will lead those areas with surplus to help supply those areas of deficit. “If we take that approach and scan back out, I think we’ll be in a good place for the years to come,” he said. “But I never want us to get to a place where we become complacent and start thinking that food just happens without a whole lot of gears turning.”