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Published on July 29th, 2013 | by Jennifer Kaplan

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Food Crisis: Can We Feed The World & Sustain The Planet?

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food crisis

The headline of a Washington Post blog post screamed global food crisis: “This terrifying chart shows we’re not growing enough food to feed the world.”

food crisis

The Global Food Crisis Is Here!

OMG! I clicked through right away. I was (somewhat) relieved to see a reasonable post about a recent study in the journal PLOS ONE finding that crop yields haven’t been rising at a sufficient pace to meet projected demand by 2050. The chart in question (see right), shows exactly that; crop yields of maize, rice, wheat and soybeans haven’t been rising at a sufficient pace to meet projected demand. Not actually terrifying, but this chart shows an impending food crisis trend that is certainly alarming.

What I really like about the post, however, is that it provides a framework for creating solutions.  In a 2009 essay (pdf) for Scientific American titled Can We Feed The World & Sustain The Planet?,  one of the PLOS ONE study authors, Jonathan Foley, an agricultural expert at the University of Minnesota, presents a five-step global plan to double food production by 2050 while greatly reducing environmental damage. It’s thesis:

The world must solve three food problems simultaneously: end hunger, double food production by 2050, and do both while drastically reducing agriculture’s damage to the environment.

Foley then lays out five tactics:

  1. Slow and ultimately stop the expansion of agriculture, particularly into tropical forests and savannas — by, for instance, shifting away from crop-based biofuels.
  2. Focus on boosting productivity of farms that have the lowest yields – in particular, across many parts of Africa, Central America and eastern Europe.
  3. Use water and fertilizer more efficiently worldwide.
  4. Reduce the amount of meat in our diets – “We can dramatically increase global food availability and environmental sustainability by using more of our crops to feed people directly and less to fatten livestock.”
  5. Reduce the amount of food waste worldwide.

The blog concludes with Foley’s sad but true insight :

“Feeding nine billion people in a truly sustainable way will be one of the greatest challenges our civilization has ever faced.”

Food crisis photo: Shutterstock.com



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About the Author

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for EatDrinkBetter.com and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .



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