FAO sees cereal boom, protein pinch and banana risks

World meat production is expected to decline in 2019 for the first time in more than two decades, as the African Swine Fever outbreak in China decimates pig herds, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Production of bovine, ovine, poultry and pig meats is forecast to total 335 million tonnes in carcass weight equivalent, 1.0 percent lower than the previous year, according to the Food Outlook.


The drop is driven by an anticipated contraction of at least 20 percent for pigmeat output in China, which usually accounts for close to half the world’s production. Poultry output in China, by contrast, had been rapidly ramped up and is expected to grow by 17 percent year-on-year, containing the country’s total meat output decline to 8 percent.

Pigmeat typically accounts for more than a third of worldwide meat output, poultry for 39 percent and bovine meat for 21 percent.  

Global production of poultry – which accounts for a larger share of all meat than pigmeat – as well as that of bovine and ovine meat is expected to grow this year, with increases anticipated Argentina, Brazil, the European Union and the United States of America, Global trade in meat products is forecast to grow by 6.7 percent this year, compared to a slowing trend observed for many food commodities.

Food Outlook assesses market and production trends for a wide array of food commodities, including cereals, fish, sugar, oilcrops and milk as well as meat. The current edition also has a special report on the threat to global banana markets posed by Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4), which was recently detected for the first time in Latin America.

Food use of staple cereals expands

Worldwide wheat and maize production is expected to increase in 2019, while that for rice to dip below the previous year’s record. On the consumption side, per capita food use of all three cereals is forecast to keep pace and even exceed population growth, according to FAO.


Global oilseed production, meanwhile, is anticipated to contract for the first time in three years, largely due to expectations of a contraction in soybean plantings and lower yields in the United States of America as well as weaker prospects for rapeseed in Canada and the European Union.

FAO also expects world sugar production to drop by 2.8 percent in the year ahead, even as global consumption expands.

Milk production is expected to expand by 1.4 percent, with dairy herd expansions in India and Pakistan accounting for almost 90 percent of the increased volume.

Global fish production is foreseen to remain unchanged from 2018, with a 3.4 percent decline in capture fisheries offset by a 3.9 percent increase in aquaculture harvests. Trade in fish is predicted to drop, although imports to China are expected to increase substantially.

Banana vigilance

The Food Outlook also assesses the hypothetical market risks of the TR4 disease on the $45 billion global production market for bananas and plantains. The analysis is presented to provide indications useful for informing policy decisions rather than offering forecasts.

With conservative assumptions – including that the fungus does not spread beyond Colombia in Latin America – TR4’s gradual spread is likely to take its greatest toll in Asia, and would entail a 2.0 percent drop in global output, the loss of 240 000 direct jobs and induce a 9.2 percent rise in the global reference price for bananas by 2028.


The spread of TR4 evokes the ghost of damage done by an earlier Fusarium wilt variety that devastated the Gros Michel banana variety in the 1950s, triggering billions of dollars of trade losses and leading to its replacement by the Cavendish. Fusarium wilt fungi are particularly severe as they remain in the soil for decades, leading farms to be abandoned and catalyzing pressure to expand banana cultivation in new unaffected lands.

The TR4 strain poses particularly elevated risks as it affects varieties beyond the Cavendish, which accounts for most of the fast-growing world trade in the fruit but not of local consumption. Bananas can provide up to 25 percent of daily calorie intake in rural areas of some countries, such as Angola and Rwanda.

The wide-ranging potential ramifications of TR4 spreading necessitates “elevated vigilance” at production sites around the world and investment in research – by exporting countries and by developed countries that import some of the 100 billion bananas eaten each year – on preventing and mitigating the disease, says Sabine Altendorf, FAO’s tropical fruit economist.

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