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!
Innovative genetic tests for children with developmental disorders and epilepsy
11.07.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Oxygen loss in the coastal Baltic Sea is “unprecedentedly severe”
05.07.2018 | European Geosciences Union
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences