Skip navigation
Hardcover | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780262194327 | 390 pp. | 6 x 9 in | March 2000
Paperback | $35.00 X | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780262692717 | 390 pp. | 6 x 9 in | August 2001

Feeding the World

A Challenge for the Twenty-First Century


This book addresses the question of how we can best feed the ten billion or so people who will likely inhabit the Earth by the middle of the twenty-first century. He asks whether human ingenuity can produce enough food to support healthy and vigorous lives for all these people without irreparably damaging the integrity of the biosphere.

What makes this book different from other books on the world food situation is its consideration of the complete food cycle, from agriculture to post-harvest losses and processing to eating and discarding. Taking a scientific approach, Smil espouses neither the catastrophic view that widespread starvation is imminent nor the cornucopian view that welcomes large population increases as the source of endless human inventiveness. He shows how we can make more effective use of current resources and suggests that if we increase farming efficiency, reduce waste, and transform our diets, future needs may not be as great as we anticipate.

Smil's message is that the prospects may not be as bright as we would like, but the outlook is hardly disheartening. Although inaction, late action, or misplaced emphasis may bring future troubles, we have the tools to steer a more efficient course. There are no insurmountable biophysical reasons we cannot feed humanity in the decades to come while easing the burden that modern agriculture puts on the biosphere.

About the Author

Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of forty books, including Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses and Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing, both published by the MIT Press. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. In 2013 Bill Gates wrote on his website that “there is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil.”


“An extremely important and well-done book, produced by one of the few people in the world with the global and interdisciplinary professional breadth to write it.”
Dennis T. Avery, Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute
“Rich in facts, balanced in its analysis, and well-written, Smil's book is awelcome relief from the doomsday literature that has dominated the field forfar too long.”
Gerhard K. Heilig, Senior Research Scholar, International Institute forApplied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria
“This work is based on the best available empirical evidence, and it presents, in my opinion, a balanced and science-based assessment of the future world food and environment situation. The topic addressed is extremely important for current and future generations. Much of the existing literature is ideologically biased. This book is not.”
Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute
“Smil has written a remarkably broad and thorough book. Its extensive factual analysis is enlivened by evaluative opinions. While not everyone will agree with all his arguments, all will find the exposition highly informative, valuable, and challenging.”
Norman Uphoff, Director, Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development
“Once again Vaclav Smil's assiduous smithing of numbers and interpretation of results profoundly inform us as we deliberate on how to buy time in a hungry world.”
Wes Jackson, The Land Institute