cows

As the world population heads into unprecedented territory, there’s a bit of good news: we have enough existing cropland to feed several billion more people. And if we refocus our diets to include eating less meat, we could feed as many as 4 billion people. That’s the findings of a recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota.

By 2050, Pew Research estimates that the world population will reach 9.6 billion people—a 38 percent increase over current numbers.

And there could be significantly more food by 2050 if better management of resources is implemented, found the study, published in the current issue of the journal Science.

As many as 4 billion people could be fed by crops fed to livestock, the report noted, “fuelling the argument that the over-reliance on meat in the west and among the growing middle classes in the developing world is an increasing problem when it comes to feeding the world,” according to the Guardian.

According to the study, half of the fertilizer being used on crops is being improperly managed and wasted, and 60 percent of the nitrogen being used on crops is being done so unnecessarily. As is nearly half of the phosphorous, which is an element that’s currently extremely limited, found the study. More efficient use of fertilizer “could also bring down greenhouse gas emissions markedly,” the Guardian noted. “Agriculture currently amounts to between one-fifth and one-third of greenhouse gases, coming from deforestation, methane and fertilisers.”

“Cutting waste even by modest amounts would also feed millions,” the Guardian reported, “between one-third and a half of the viable crops and food produced from them around the world are wasted, in the developing world usually because of a lack of infrastructure such as refrigerated transport, and in the rich world because of wasteful habits.”

The researchers suggest turning efforts towards better management of staple crops, particularly grains including wheat and rice grown in the U.S., Asian and Latin American countries as well as in Europe.

As well, better management of water in farming could increase yields, “if the water used for irrigation was pinpointed more efficiently to where it is needed, then much more could be grown, but currently much of it is sprayed uselessly over crops,” reports the Guardian. The study found that as much as 8 to 15 percent of current water usage could be saved.

Resource: Pew Research

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