What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Africa leading the way, Impatient Optimists

Is it crazy to think we can eradicate poverty?, The New York Times

Guest post: to find African development, look for good governance by the sea, Financial Times

Bill Gates Joins Tony Blair in Praising Africa Economic Progress, Bloomberg

Open Data Opens Doors, Feed the Future

Food Biotechnology: A Communicator’s Guide to Improving Understanding, Food Insight

Encouraging signs of progress from Bonn climate talks, Thomson Reuters Foundation

GM crops: Promise and reality, Nature

Over half world’s population could depend on imported food by 2050, Environmental Research Web

Agriculture and Livestock Remain Major Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Worldwatch Institute

Agricultural intensification could run up high bills in the long-run, SciDev.Net

New GM crop wave may ease Frankenfood fright, Western Farm Press

The Expanding Role of Smallholder Farmers in Feeding the World, CSIS

Africa: Economists Warn of Gaps Amidst Africa’s Growth, All Africa

More Land to Feed our Changing Diets

Dietary change looks likely to be the most significant factor in increasing land requirements to feed a growing population in many regions of the world. In a paper published in early 2012, researchers from Austria and the Netherlands analysed changes in land requirements from 1961 to 2007 in order to determine the most significant drivers of changes in land use for food production and how they differ between global regions.

Overall increases in output per unit of land in the past were predominantly due to population growth and dietary change. The relationship between population change and dietary diversification was found to be inverse i.e. as a rule of thumb diets become more varied as populations decrease (most likely a symptom of globalization and demographic transition). Trends in increased meat and dairy production and intake have been well documented. A 2010 paper, authored by Tara Garnett, stated the importance of moderating our consumption of meat and dairy products because the livestock sector is responsible for a substantial proportion of greenhouse gas emissions and because technological climate change mitigation activities can only go so far. When land use change and agriculture are combined their contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is around 30%.

The 2012 paper concluded that dietary change is predicted to be more significant a factor in increasing land requirements for agriculture than population growth in the near future with developed countries and emerging economies the biggest drivers of this trend.