Can We Grow Enough Food To Feed The World?
Can We Grow Enough Food To Feed The World is a fair question to ask and one that is probably on the minds of many.
According to National Geographic and its resources...It is estimated that world population will be at 9 Billion plus by the year 2050.
“The environmental challenges posed by agriculture are huge, and they’ll only become more pressing as we try to meet the growing need for food worldwide. We’ll likely have two billion more mouths to feed by mid-century, more than nine billion people."
"...But sheer population growth isn’t the only reason we’ll need more food. The spread of prosperity across the world, especially in China and India, is driving an increased demand for meat, eggs, and dairy, boosting pressure to grow more corn and soybeans to feed more cattle, pigs and chickens.If these trends continue, the double whammy of population growth and richer diets will require us to roughly double the amount of crops we grow by 2050.”
I never really thought about the ‘double whammy effect’ i.e. the spread of prosperity across the under served world leading to the demand for richer diets.
Addressing this challenge has become somewhat polarized pitting conventional agriculture and global commerce against local food systems and organic farms.
Those who favor conventional agriculture stand behind modern mechanization, irrigation, fertilizers and improved genetics to increase yields. Proponents of local and organic farms counter that the world’s small farmers could increase yields and help themselves out of poverty by adopting techniques that improve fertility without fertilizers and pesticides.
Both approaches can offer badly needed solutions because neither one alone has enough to get us there. It is no new revelation that we need to increase the availability and supply of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture.
Did you know that Agriculture is among the greatest contributors to global warming, emitting more greenhouse gasses than all of our cars, trucks, trains and airplanes combined. Apparently this is largely due to methane released by cattle and rice farms, nitrous oxide released from fertilized fields and carbon dioxide released from the cutting of rain forests to grow crops or raise livestock.
Suggestions From some Authorities in the Field...
Step One: Freeze the Agriculture Footprint.
Avoiding further deforestation must become a top priority. An area roughly the size of South America has already been cleared to grow crops. An area roughly the size of Africa has been taken over to raise livestock.
Step Two: Grow more on Farms we already have.
Using high-tech, precision farming systems, as well as approaches borrowed from organic farming could boost yields on less productive farmlands, especially in Africa, Latin America and Easter Europe where there are “yield Gaps” between current production levels and those possible with improved farming practices (see Bill Gates’ thoughts below).
Step Three: Use resources more efficiently. “More Crop for Drop.”
Commercial farming is making huge strides finding innovative ways to better target the application of fertilizers and pesticides. Tractors are now equipped with advanced sensors and GPS and many growers apply customized blends of fertilizer to exact soil conditions which helps minimize chemical runoff into nearby waterways.
Organic farming continues to improve by incorporating cover crops, mulches and compost to improve soil quality, conserve water and build up nutrients. Inefficient irrigation systems are being replaced with more precise methods including subsurface drip irrigation.
Step Four: Shift Diets.
Some of the stats that I’m going to share with you below, I was not completely aware of myself. I did not know that it would be easier to feed nine billion people by 2050 if more of the crops we grow ended up in human stomachs.
“…Today, only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people directly; the rest are fed to livestock (about 36%) or turned into bio fuels and industrial products (roughly 9%). Though many of us consume meat, dairy and eggs from animals raised on feedlots, only a fraction of the calories in feed given to livestock make their way into the meat and milk that we consume.”
For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we only get back:
- About 40 new calories of Milk;
- About 22 calories of Eggs;
- About 12 calories of Chicken;
- About 10 calories of Pork; and
- About 3 calories of Beef.
Seems to me that finding more efficient ways to grow meat and shifting to less meat intensive diets would make sense. Even just switching from ‘grain-fed’ beef to meats like chicken, pork or pasture-raised beef (whatever happened to pasture-raised beef), could free up substantial amounts of food across the world.
“…Because people in developing countries are unlikely to eat less meat in the near future, given their new found prosperity, we can first focus on countries that already have meat rich diets. Curtailing the use of food crops for bio fuels could also go a long way towards enhancing food availability.”
Step Five: Reduce Waste.
It is estimated that 25 percent of the world’s food calories and up to 50 percent of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed.
In developed or so-called ‘rich countries.’ The majority of this waste occurs in homes, restaurants and supermarkets.
In poorer countries, food is often lost between the farmer and the market due to unreliable storage and transportation.
Consumers in the developed world could reduce waste by taking such simple steps as serving smaller portions, eating leftovers, and encouraging cafeterias, restaurants and supermarkets to develop waste reducing measures.
Of all of the options for boosting food availability, tackling waste would be one of the most effective. I speak from experience. I spent many years working in Hotels and restaurants.
Resources used for the above Information:
- National Geographic
- Institute on the Environment (University of Minnesota)
- The Rockefeller Foundation
...and says that fertilizer is a “…magical innovation that’s responsible for saving millions of lives from hunger and lifting millions more out of poverty by boosting agricultural productivity.”
He recently visited a warehouse in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania that is part of a new fertilizer distribution center and the largest of its kind in East Africa.
See the video here:
Mr. Gates believes that “…every ounce of fertilizer has the potential to transform lives in Africa. But that potential is only realized when it reaches the hands of the world’s poorest farmers – a challenge that’s proven difficult in Africa, where fertilizer use is low, and, as a result, agricultural productivity is too.”
See Chart Below:
He Goes on to say:
“…Cost is one of the biggest problems why fertilizer has not caught on in Africa. Poor roads and weak infrastructure is another. Weak distribution systems means lack of dependable supply. Limited access to credit prevents farmers from purchasing fertilizer even if it is available. Add to that a lack of agricultural training means that farmers may not see the value of investing in it or understand how to use it properly.”
The warehouse that Mr. Gates visited has a capacity of 350,000 metric tons. In 2016, all of Tanzania used only a total of 277,000 metric tons. That means that the supply is there to prevent any shortages and more warehouses are planned if the demand increases.
The warehouse is built by Yara, a Norwegian agricultural company. Yara works with the governement of Tanzania and dozens of other businesses and nonprofit organizations to stimulate demand for fertilizer by providing training to smallholder farmers on how to use it to boost crop yields.
According to Mr. Gates, 80 percent of Tanzania’s workforce is engaged in farming and related industries. He suggests that growing more food through greater fertilizer use would have a huge impact on the country’s prosperity.
“…What I saw at work in Tanzania is part of a broader effort underway in Africa to use agricultural as an engine to power economic growth across the continent. New innovations in farming – from better fertilizer and crops that are more productive, nutritious and drought and disease resistant – will make it possible for farmers to increase their yields in the years ahead. With greater productivity, farming families will be able to sell their surpluses to supplement their family’s diet with vegetables, eggs, milk and meat.”
So there you have it…a complete contradiction in terms...one side saying because of economic prosperity we will have challenges keeping up with the demand in diet for milk, eggs and meat from developing nations and the other saying that by increasing agricultural capacity in poorer nations the under served can now improve their lives with the addition of milk eggs and meat to their diets.
Kind of like the hamster in the wheel.
Why not just focus on reducing the waste. I know, too simple. (It is estimated that 25 percent of the world’s food calories and up to 50 percent of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed).
So, can we grow enough food to feed the world even when it reaches 9 billion in 2050?
I'm confident that we can but chances are we'll lose half of it if not more to waste in the process.
What are your thoughts?
Kindest regards from Canada.