The 9 billion people projected to inhabit the Earth by 2050 need not starve in order to preserve the environment, says a major report on sustainability out this week.
Agrimonde describes the findings of a huge five-year modelling exercise by the French national agricultural and development research agencies, INRA and CIRAD. It is the second report on sustainability launched this week to provide a healthy dose of good news.
The French team began with a goal – 3000 calories per day for everyone, including 500 from animal sources – then ran a global food model repeatedly, with and without environmental limits on farming. The aim was to see how the calorie goal could be achieved.
"We found three main conditions," says Hervé Guyomard of INRA. "The biggest surprise was that some regions will depend even more on imports", even as their production rises. This, he says, means that we will need to find ways to counter excessive fluctuations in world prices so that imports are not hindered.
In addition, says Guyomard, "the rich must stop consuming so much". He points out that food amounting to 800 calories is lost per person each day as waste in richer nations.
The model suggested that realistic yield increases could feed everyone, even as farms take measures to protect the environment, such as preserving forests or cutting down on the use of fossil fuels. The key will be to tailor detailed solutions to different regions.
These are the main challenges for research, says Guyomard. For example, high-yield farming typically means large expanses of one crop, which encourages crop diseases and requires more pesticides.
Instead, researchers could find ways for farmers to raise yields while maintaining biodiversity. Guyomard says food scientists will need to organise globally, as climate scientists have done.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
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