The Visual History of
Hunger and Food Provision

Over the last few centuries food availability has improved.

This chart shows averages - to understand how bad the food supply used to be we will next look at the very large inequality of food consumption.


The social historian Robert Fogel who compiled this data notes:

"Individuals in the bottom 20 percent of the caloric distributions of France and England near the end of the eighteenth century lacked the energy for sustained work and were effectively excluded from the labor force."


Food prices started to fall with the onset of modernity, making food available for larger and larger parts of society.


One of the many beneficial consequences of decreasing world poverty... that food provision is now improving around the world.

We will look at this on a world map...

This is daily food supply (in kcal) per capita in 1961.

And this is daily food supply (in kcal) per capita in 2013.

The share of undernourished people declined since 1990.


A major change is that famines have become very rare.

Click on the chart to find the list of famines between 1850 and today on which this chart is based.


Improving food provision and food security are major drivers for improving health around the world.


And this is how health has improved over the last 200 years.


As a consequence of improving health and food provision the world population rose from less than 1 billion in 1800 to over 7 billion today.

That the world population skyrocketed and food provision improved at the same time makes this even more impressive.

This could only be accomplished by modernizing agriculture around the world...


With the help of fertilizer and improved seeds we increased yields (crops per area) massively.

This chart shows farm grain yields (national averages) of wheat throughout the century in 21 countries (since 1900) - Calderini & Slafer (full source by clicking on the chart)


This means we produced much more food without increasing the agricultural land, reducing the impact on the environment.


Arable land per capita (ha in use per person) (1961-2050) - Jelle Bruinsma (2009)

These productivity increases are reducing the agriculutural land per person and will continue to save our environment.


So agricultural land use did not increase much and is projected to shrink over the next decades.

Even though the world population is still increasing!


The productivity increases also made it possible for fewer and fewer people to work in agriculture.

In Europe...


...and around the world modernization leads to a shift away from the agricultural sector.


By freeing the labor force for manufacturing and service jobs, the agricultural modernization reinforces reduction of world poverty in a positive feedback loop.

Here is my presentation on the global decline of poverty.

But food provision remains a huge challenge.
In many countries of the world the share of children suffering from stunted growth is still high.

And the share of population who is undernourished is also still too high.

But this presentation showed: Food supply improved hugely over the last 2 centuries. We should be encouraged by this perspective and continue to solve the remaining challenges.

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