Feeding 9 billion people

According to an article from the highly respected Stockholm Environment Institute and an international team of experts, published in Nature, feeding a global population of 9 billion is achievable.

The article states that we can double, and potentially increase by nearly three times, global food supply by following four key strategies:

  • halting agricultural expansion,
  • closing ‘yield gaps’ on underperforming lands,
  • increasing cropping efficiency,
  • shifting diets and reducing waste.

In developing improved land use and agricultural practices, the paper recommends following these guidelines:

(1) Solutions should focus on critical biophysical and economic ‘leverage points’ in agricultural systems, where major improvements in food production or environmental performance may be achieved with the least effort and cost.

(2) New practices must also increase the resilience of the food system. High-efficiency, industrialized agriculture has many benefits, but it is vulnerable to disasters, including climatic disturbances, new diseases and economic calamities.

(3) Agricultural activities have many costs and benefits, but methods of evaluating the trade-offs are still poorly developed. We need better data and decision support tools to improve management decisions, productivity and environmental stewardship.

(4) The search for agricultural solutions should remain technology-neutral. There are multiple paths to improving the production, food security and environmental performance of agriculture, and we should not be locked into a single approach a priori, whether it be conventional agriculture, genetic modification or organic farming.

This is a reasonably detailed and level-headed look at the sustainable food production systems needed to feed the world’s growing population. GallonDaily commends it to all interested in food system planning.

The article can be found at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature10452.html  A fee or subscription is required to move beyond the abstract.

A good synopsis of the article, including comments from McGill University professor Navin Ramankutty, a senior member of the study team, is at http://www.seeddaily.com/reports/Feeding_the_world_while_protecting_the_planet_999.html

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