Over the next 50 or so years the population is predicted to rise to over 9 billion, an addition of 2 billion people to the planet. Understandably this raises concerns as to how the resources of the planet, not least food, will stretch to meet the growing demand. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates food production will need to increase 70 to 100% by 2050. In a new paper entitled, Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare, authors Cassidy et al investigated how our current food production systems could be adapted to feed more people.
Increasingly crops grown are being used to feed livestock and as sources of fuel, uses that can divert food away from the human food chain. Some 36% of the calories produced from crops are used for animal feed of which 12% contributes to human diets, and 4% of human calories are used for biofuel production. The latter proportion has increased four-fold between 2000 and 2010 and looks set to rise further. The study asked the question, how many more people could be fed if crops were only grown for human consumption?
Through mapping the extent, productivity and end use of 41 major agricultural crops, which account for over 90% of total calorie production in the world, the authors were able to identify the gaps between human calorie requirements (taken as 2,700 calories per day) and crop production, now and in the future.
The paper reports significant inefficiencies in the food system. If the current crops being grown were used exclusively for human consumption, our food systems could feed an additional 4 billion people. As the authors state, however, changing the allocation of crops in terms of their end use is only one potential solution but one which when combined with efforts to increase crop yields and to reduce food waste could amount to a substantial solution to the world’s food needs.