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Nourishing the world: 8 billion people and counting

November 19, 2022

The United Nations "Day of 8 Billion” milestone was underscored by concerns about how to provide nutrition for the growing population while lowering environmental impact

Across the globe, as many as 385,000 babies were born on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. One of them was the world’s 8 billionth person.

There weren’t any brightly wrapped packages or confetti, but the United Nations commemorated Nov. 15, 2022, as the “Day of 8 Billion.” Its #8BillionStrong campaign celebrated the world’s progress and highlighted how and where the population is growing — and what that growth will look like in the coming years.

The U.N. attributed the world’s unprecedented growth to the gradual increase in human lifespan thanks to improvements in public health, nutrition, personal hygiene and medicine, as well as high and persistent levels of fertility in some countries.

The Day of 8 Billion was underscored, however, by very real concerns about how to simultaneously provide nutrition for the expanding population while lowering environmental impact and replenishing the planet’s natural resources.

Population growth is slowing. It took 12 years for the population to grow from 7 to 8 billion, and it will take 15 years for it to reach 9 billion. However, the growth has become increasingly concentrated among the world’s poorest countries, many of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population is expected to hit 3.44 billion by the late 2060s. In these countries, sustained rapid population growth can thwart the achievement of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the U.N. said.

There’s also rapid growth in Asia. India and China each have more than 1.4 billion residents — that’s 35% of the world’s population. Next year, India is expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country.

“The (8 billion) milestone is an occasion to celebrate diversity and advancements while considering humanity’s shared responsibility for the planet,” said Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General.


That responsibility was also the focus of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, which coincided with the Day of 8 Billion. The 12-day conference, which ended Friday, brought together leaders from across the globe to discuss and deliver action on a myriad of climate-related challenges, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building resilience and adapting to impacts of climate change. One of this year’s goals was to renew solidarity between countries to deliver on the landmark Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change that was adopted at COP21 in 2016.

Agriculture and food systems took center stage at this year’s climate talks, as a groundbreaking new initiative was announced that recognizes the relationship between nutrition and the climate crisis. The Initiative on Climate Action and Nutrition (I-CAN) will accelerate transformative action to address the critical nexus of climate change and nutrition.

I-CAN will focus on policies and actions that work to reduce climate change and improve nutrition, particularly for children and vulnerable groups.

COP27 also saw the launch of the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST) initiative, which aims to implement concrete actions that would result in improving the quantity and quality of climate finance contributions to transform agriculture and food systems by 2030.

A look at the trends

The #8BillionStrong campaign identified eight trends for a world of 8 billion people: slowing growth, fewer children, longer lives, people on the move, aging populations, women outliving men, two pandemics and shifting centers.

Growth rates vary across the globe: The data showed that regions of the world are growing at different rates, shifting the geographical distribution of the global population. The 46 least-developed countries are among the world’s fastest growing.

Many are projected to double in population between 2022 and 2050, putting additional pressures on resources, the U.N. said.

Shrinking populations: The annual population growth rate was 0.8% in 2022, compared to 2.3% in 1963. China’s population is no longer growing and may start declining by next year. More and more countries have shrinking populations because of decades of low fertility and high rates of emigration in some cases. Seventeen countries in Eastern Europe have seen their populations shrink since 1990.

We’ll hit 9 billion in 15 years: Despite slowed growth in some countries, the world’s population is predicted to grow to around 8.5 billion by 2030, according to the U.N.’s predictions, and to 9 billion by 2037. It will be 9.7 billion by 2050 and 10.4 billion by 2100.

We’re aging faster: By 2050, the number of people aged 65+ will be over twice the number of children under 5, and about the same as the number of children under 12. Global life expectancy at birth in 2019 was 72.8 years, up almost nine years since 1990. It is projected to rise to 77.2 years by 2050.

We’re living longer: Life expectancy can be as high as 85 in Australia, Hong Kong and Japan, but it is much lower in low-income countries: 63. Life expectancy can be as low as 54 for those born in the Central African Republic, Chad, Lesotho or Nigeria.

The impact of economic development: Rising per capita incomes — typically in areas where the population is not growing as rapidly — are the main driver of unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. Curbing those patterns will be critical to meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement and achieving the SDGs, the U.N. said.

These population predictions emphasize the important role of the agriculture industry as it works to ensure sustainable nutrition for the growing global population. Currently, more than 800 million people across the world still go to bed hungry each night, stunting the growth of both children and economies.

The U.N. said the world’s food systems must transform to feed a growing population and limit environmental damage.

“While population growth is a key driver of the increasing demand for food, changes in the amount and types of food consumed also play a major role. Food systems need to incorporate more sustainable practices while ensuring access to safe, sufficient, affordable and nutritious food and the enjoyment of a diversified, balanced and healthy diet for all,” the U.N. said.

Alltech, a global leader in the agriculture industry, believes that agriculture has the greatest potential to positively shape the future of the planet. It is uniting the agrifood community in Working Together for a Planet of Plenty™.

“To be sustainable, we must do much more than indefinitely maintain the status quo — true sustainability is continuous economic, environmental and social progress. Agriculture is uniquely positioned to support these critical pillars of sustainability, from providing nutrition for all and revitalizing local economies to replenishing the planet’s natural resources,” Alltech said.