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How to Feed a Hungry World

Producing enough food for the world's population in 2050 will be easy. But doing it at an acceptable cost to the planet will depend on research into everything from high-tech seeds to low-tech farming practices.

With the world's population expected to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, a certain Malthusian alarmism has set in: how will all these extra mouths be fed? The world's population more than doubled from 3 billion between 1961 and 2007, yet agricultural output kept pace — and current projections (see page 546) suggest it will continue to do so. Admittedly, climate change adds a large degree of uncertainty to projections of agricultural output, but that just underlines the importance of monitoring and research to refine those predictions. That aside, in the words of one official at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the task of feeding the world's population in 2050 in itself seems “easily possible”.

Easy, that is, if the world brings into play swathes of extra land, spreads still more fertilizers and pesticides, and further depletes already scarce groundwater supplies. But clearing hundreds of millions of hectares of wildlands — most of the land that would be brought into use is in Latin America and Africa — while increasing today's brand of resource-intensive, environmentally destructive agriculture is a poor option. Therein lies the real challenge in the coming decades: how to expand agricultural output massively without increasing by much the amount of land used.

What is needed is a second green revolution — an approach that Britain's Royal Society aptly describes as the “sustainable intensification of global agriculture”. Such a revolution will require a wholesale realignment of priorities in agricultural research. There is an urgent need for new crop varieties that offer higher yields but use less water, fertilizers or other inputs — created, for example, through long-neglected research on modifying roots (see page 552) — and for crops that are more resistant to drought, heat, submersion and pests. Equally crucial is lower-tech research into basics such as crop rotation, mixed farming of animals and plants on smallholder farms, soil management and curbing waste. (Between one-quarter and one-third of the food produced worldwide is lost or spoiled.)


 

Comments

It seems that agriculture seems to fuel population. Meaning the more that is produced results in a growth in population. However, almost every essay seems to address that we have to produce more to feed the starving populations. Here is a link from a speech Quinn gave in '98. http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/kentstate.cfm

It seems that agriculture seems to fuel population. Meaning the more that is produced results in a growth in population. However, almost every essay seems to address that we have to produce more to feed the starving populations. Here is a link from a speech Quinn gave in '98 going into greater depth of what I'm trying to explain. It's worth a read. http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/kentstate.cfm

Well, it seems that non-subsitance poverty fuels population growth. Agriculture simply reduces the hunger of the poor but only has a minor impact on grown and loses.

REduced food costs, may have some impact on poverty, but the dollar mean hasn't lifted anyone out of povery yet, so I imagine cheap corn won't either.

Not exactly about feeding the world, but Larry Lessig has a lecture about feeding Americans.

http://scienceblogs.com/thescian/2010/08/cornandcampaign_money.php

He doesn't mention that heavily subsided American corn and other agricultural products are dumped on the world market making it difficult for local farmers to compete.

Good discussion of "carrying capacity" as it applies to humans on the planet here: http://dieoff.org/page110.htm

How about instead of just accepting the apocalyptic population projections, we engage in population control strategies? Why is it a given that the population will grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050? Why is it so difficult for humans to embrace family planning? Put another way, why isn't out pharmaceutical and medical infrastructure addressing overpopulation instead of giving us Viagra and Cialis?

We need to, but I think its too late to stop 2050 from comming at this point.

Unless we have a "war" on populaiton growth.

I think Searle took care of that in 1960. Envoid or something like that.

Funny thing about Malthusian population projections.

When women in a culture are empowered and provided access to health care and birth control, population growth rates drop.

It doesn't take more land to do this. It doesn't take GMO to do it. How bout a concerted effort to empower women instead???

Why arbitrarily limit ourselves to one approach. We should use all the good ideas we can. Genetically engineered plants that require fewer of the resources of the planet are a good thing, we shouldn't exclude them simply because the "Church of the Organic," dismisses them all not based on science but on dogma. Few liberals have trouble with the scientific consensus on global warming, while an equally strong consensus on the benefits of genetic engineering puts them in a tizzy.

I like that Norm, but it needs an L at the end. Maybe Church of the Organic Liturgy.

COOL!

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