World population forecast discounted

Farm production goals are based on the world’s population reaching 9.7 billion in the next three decades, 
but the head of Ipsos Public Affairs says there’s no way that’s going to happen


It’s become a mantra in Canada’s agriculture industry and is repeated at nearly every farm meeting: “Farmers have to dramatically increase production because the global population will soon hit 9.7 billion.”

Darrell Bricker, chief executive officer of Ipsos Public Affairs, a research firm, thinks that mantra is bogus.

The world’s population will in-crease over the next 25 to 30 years, he said, but it’s unlikely to top nine billion.

“Probably around eight billion. If you look at the UN (United Nations) low projection, it’s closer to that number,” said Bricker, who spoke at the Canola Council of Canada’s March 7-9 convention in Winnipeg.

“There is going to be a population increase to mid-century, and after that it’s going to decline. (And) it could decline quite rapidly.”

Bricker isn’t buying the hype around population growth because global birth rates have dropped dramatically and continue to sink. For instance, he travelled to Kenya last summer and learned that the birthrate in the African nation has declined by one child in the last decade.

The story is the same in China, India, Indonesia and Japan.

“Nobody in the world is creating more kids,” said Bricker, who speaks frequently about changing demographics and global population shifts.

“When you think about market demand going forward … the places that we trade with, the population is going to shrink, it’s going to age and it’s going to urbanize.”

A slowing or stopped population growth could have a massive impact on Canadian farmers because the country’s agri-food industry relies heavily on export demand.

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The United Nations estimates that global population will hit 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.

Bricker said the 11.2 billion forecast is absurd.

“Everybody has told you that the world’s population is going to reach, by 2100, 11 billion people. That is nonsense. It’s not even to get close.”

The UN and Bricker do agree that the world will soon be much older. By 2036, estimates suggest the average Canadian will live to 87 and the percentage of people older than 60 will boom.

“The slowdown in population growth due to the overall reduction in fertility causes the proportion of older persons to increase over time,” the UN said in a statement.

“Globally, the number of persons aged 60 or above is expected to more than double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100.”

This shift upward in age is already happening in many developed countries and will affect the agri-food sector.

“We think that taste is going to be driven in the future by young people,” Bricker said.

“It’s actually increasingly going to be driven by old people because there are more of them.”

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Ipsos data shows that people older than 60 are much richer than those younger than 35, who are commonly called millennials:

  • The net worth of Canadian families older than 65 is around $460,000.
  • The net worth of people younger than 35 is $25,300.

Since the “welderly,” as Bricker calls them, control most of Canada’s wealth, farmers and food processors should focus more attention on their wants and needs.

In other words, the cultural stereotype of a frail senior citizen hunched over a dusty kitchen table nibbling on stale bread that she bought with her last remaining pennies is a farce.

The demographic of older and wealthier people could be an opportunity for food with healthy attributes, such as canola oil, because older people want to preserve their physical wellness as long as possible.

The other food demographic of note, at least in Canada, is recent immigrants, Bricker said.

Fifty percent of the people living in Toronto and 40 percent of those living in Vancouver were born in another country.

These immigrant families have more children compared to the rest of the population and the agri-food sector cannot ignore them.

“People in the agriculture industry try to respond to (trends) … (but) they think it’s about artisanal cheeses for downtown hipsters on Queen Street (in Toronto),” Bricker said.

“Well, they (hipsters) are not having kids. The question is, where’s the mass market? And the mass market, where the population is growing, is among these immigrant populations.”

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The world population clock, which can be found at www.census.gov/popclock/, says the planet now has 7.37 billion people.