The Global Vegetable Shortage, And How Katif Is Addressing It

Vegetables are great.

They can help reduce our global carbon footprint, live healthier, and they’re delicious.

But, did you know that research indicates we will face a global vegetable shortage within the next 4 years?

By the year, 2050, the world population will reach about 9.7 billion people. Population growth, coupled with increased income and overall higher caloric intake requirement, will increase the demand for vegetables by 50%.

Despite this increased demand, there is little evidence to suggest growing vegetables is going to get any easier, or any more efficient. On the contrary, serious changes in the coming years will cause growing vegetables to become increasingly difficult. Climate change, limited access to land and water use, and a lack of energy and fertilizer in agriculture will all prove difficult adversaries. The demands for agricultural products will, quite simply, far exceed farmers’ abilities to supply as soon as the year 2022 unless changes within farming technologies are rapidly adopted and implemented[1].

By 2022, there will be a global demand for 850 million tons of veggies[2]. If the agricultural industry continues in its current methods (i.e. the usual field cropping systems), this 850-million-ton demand will not be met, and the shortage will start.

Katif is working to develop new innovative models that are able to overcome a potential shortage. Our research indicates that moving 5% of the land from outdoor vegetable farms to “plant factories,” or high-tech indoor farming, can address the immediate global demand for vegetables. Doing so maximizes space and yield and allows the climate to be easily controlled and monitored for maximum return. Second, if an additional 10% of the land switches to GHLT, or conventional greenhouse production using soil in a non-sterile, labor-intensive environment, the supply can meet the global demand for vegetables[3].

The predicted shortage will mostly be caused by climate change. Countries all over the world are currently experienced unusual weather patterns that make it difficult for farmers with the existing demand for vegetables. While some areas are experiencing too little rainfall, others must deal with flooding. Cold snaps that held on all through the springtime, followed by sizzling temperatures, made it less-than-ideal to plant any time of year. And, unfortunately, this pattern will only intensify as climate change continues to accelerate in the coming years.

In 2017, many markets in Europe had trouble staying stocked with courgettes, spinach, and even iceberg lettuce. Many stores blamed the bad weather in the regions that these vegetables are primarily grown in, like Spain and Italy. Cold weather and lack of sunlight in Southern Europe made it difficult to cultivate enough produce to keep up with the demand. In fact, due to record-high rainfalls in 2017, only 30% of the land in Murcia, Spain was viable for planting[4].

In 2018, freezing temps at the beginning of the year, followed by a cold, wet spring, and scorching summer temperatures forced many farmers to delay planting. The shorter growing season means smaller and fewer vegetables for consumers in 2019. With some farmers experiencing reduced yields of up to 23%, this pattern will only worsen unless changes in farming and agriculture are implemented[5].

The vegetable shortage isn’t just a European problem, however. American farmers have also felt strain due to extreme and unusual weather. 2019 has seen lower prices for vegetables, such as broccoli, which sounds good for consumers’ right?

Wrong – as cold and rainy conditions across the country wreaked havoc on the growing season last year; suppliers find themselves turning a blind eye to quantity, and quality as well. Suppliers are forced to reduce prices due to improper products. For example, broccoli from California and Yuma developed pin rot, a fungal infection, which stems from oversaturation[6].

Last year, Asian markets shared in weather woes, with additional problems in harvest caused by powerful earthquakes in Hokkaido and typhoons in Northern Japan. Power outages caused by these natural disasters resulted in the closure of the vegetable sorting plant in Hokkaido, leading to a 30% decrease in Japanese carrots. While the country was able to get many of their vegetables from China, it came at a higher price for consumers[7].

Katif’s plans to improve upon current agricultural practices are based primarily upon the use of greenhouses. Clearly, we have to utilize as much natural and renewable resources as possible to create a sustainable and effective solution. The sun is our most natural and renewable resource, and therefore we need to be taking advantage of it as much as possible. Currently, the countries with the most return on greenhouse technology are the U.S., The Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Mexico, the U.K., New Zealand, France, Italy, and Russia. These countries would benefit the most from implementing our model and see an increase in yield over time. While Katif’s solution is an effective method that will benefit many producers in the long-run, the best approach is to implement a solution that will work regardless of the devastating effects of climate change, which is the number-one cause of problems with agricultural supply and demand. In the meantime, however, greenhouse technology will help stay on top of the future global vegetable shortage in several ways. Farmland will have a chance to recover, energy will be consumed less during planting and harvest, and less water will be needed. The weather will no longer hold farmers and suppliers at its whim; rather, they will have full control over the climate inside the greenhouse. The use of greenhouses makes for better quality and quantity in produce that pays off for both consumers and suppliers.


[1] Katif Autonomous Farms – Market Research.

[2] Euromonitor International, 2018; MarketLine, 2018

[3] Katif Autonomous Farms – Market Research.