The world's croplands could feed 4 billion more people than they do now just by shifting from producing animal feed and biofuels to producing exclusively food for human consumption, according to new research from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.
Even a smaller, partial shift from crop-intensive livestock such as feedlot beef to food animals such as chicken or pork could increase agricultural efficiency and provide food for millions, the study says.
"We essentially have uncovered an astoundingly abundant supply of food for a hungry world, hidden in plain sight in the farmlands we already cultivate," says graduate research assistant Emily Cassidy, lead author of the paper published in Environmental Research Letters. "Depending on the extent to which farmers and consumers are willing to change current practices, existing croplands could feed millions or even billions more people."
Demand for crops is expected to double by 2050 as population grows and increasing affluence boosts meat consumption. Meat takes a particularly big toll on food security because it takes up to 30 crop calories to produce a single calorie of meat. In addition, crops are increasingly being used for biofuels rather than food production. This study sought to quantify the benefit to food security that would accrue if some or all of the lands used to produce animal feed and fuel were reallocated to directly produce food for people.
To get at that question, Cassidy and colleagues first mapped the extent and productivity of 41 major crops between 1997 and 2003, adjusting numbers for imports and exports and calculating conversion efficiencies of animal feed using U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The researchers assumed humans need an average of 2,700 calories per day, and grazing lands and animals were not included in the study. Among the team's findings:
Only 12 percent of crop calories used for animal feed end up as calories consumed by humans.
Only 55 percent of crop calories worldwide directly nourish people.
Growing food exclusively for direct human consumption could boost available food calories up to 70 percent
U.S. agriculture alone could feed an additional 1 billion people by shifting crop calories to direct human consumption.
When calculated on the basis of protein rather than calories, results were similar. For instance, of all plant protein produced, 49 percent ends up in human diets.
In addition to the global findings, the research team looked at allocation of crop calories in four key countries: India, China, Brazil and the U.S. They found that while India allocates 90 percent of calories to feeding people, the other three allocate 58 percent, 45 percent, and 27 percent, respectively.
Noting the major cultural and economic dimensions involved, the researchers acknowledged that while a complete shift from animal to plant-based diets may not be feasible, even a partial shift would benefit food security. Quantifying the impact of various strategies, they found that a shift from crop-intensive beef to pork and chicken could feed an additional 357 million people, and a shift to nonmeat diets that include eggs and milk could feed an additional 815 million people.
The researchers emphasized that they are not making diet prescriptions or recommendations, just pointing out opportunities for gains in food production. They noted that humans can completely meet protein needs with plant-based diets, but that crop systems would need to shift (e.g., toward more production of protein-rich legumes) to meet human dietary needs.
"The good news is that we already produce enough calories to feed a few billion more people," Cassidy says. "As our planet gets more crowded or we experience disasters like droughts and pests, we can find ways of using existing croplands more efficiently."
To view a video explaining the research, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmBVbqEPeC0&feature=c4-overview&list=UUXzMUZRZtBE0GtF1RCOWMbw.
The University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment seeks lasting solutions to Earth's biggest challenges through research, partnerships and leadership development. For more information, visit environment.umn.edu.
Mary Hoff | EurekAlert!
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy