Our current food system can sustainably feed only 3,4 billion people without altering the key balances of our planet. By rearranging diets and crops, we could easily feed well over 10 billion people.
"We must not go further in the direction of food production at the expense of the environment". It says so Dieter Gerten of the Potsdam Climate Impact Research Institute in Germany, author the study on the world food system. The study has been published in Nature Sustainability.
In 2009, researchers identified nine so-called "planetary boundaries": These are the limits that we should not overcome if we are to maintain Earth's life support systems.
Gerten's team looked at the four that are relevant to agriculture:
- do not use too much nitrogen, which causes dead zones in lakes and oceans;
- avoid taking too much fresh water from rivers;
- do not cut down too much forest;
- maintain biodiversity.
The team's conclusion is that today
half of the food production violates these limits. This analysis is also the first to provide insights into where, geographically, these limits are transgressed.
It is a situation that destroys the planet and causes food shortages. These are situations that combined can lead to the death of billions of people.
By changing what is grown and making some changes to our diet, the team says it would be possible to feed more than 10 billion people while perfectly respecting the four borders.
The world food system of the future can save us from a catastrophe
The recipe for saving the planet implies first of all the conversion of farms into areas where more than 5 animal species are threatened. Second, reforestation of agricultural land where more than 85% of the tropical forest has been cleared. Third, the reduction of water withdrawal for irrigation and other purposes where it is misused. Fourth, the reduction of nitrogen fertilization where levels in surface waters are too high.
Farms could expand into areas where these limits are not exceeded. This may mean limiting the use of fertilizers in parts of eastern China and central Europe. As a result, it could expand into parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the western United States.
These changes would allow primarily sustainable food production more than enough to feed 7,8 billion people. More or less the current world population.
Food waste reduction e shift from meat consumption they could also allow the food system to easily feed more than 10,2 billion people.
But be careful: the current plan is only valid if the planet is not overheating yet
A big caveat is also that the team assumes that the planet doesn't heat up above 1,5 ° C. "Future studies will look at the effects of warming beyond this threshold," says whips.
World food system, the downside
Conversely, the study is based only on existing technologies and not on new approaches. I think to genome editing and also the use of the agrivoltaic, the solar calibrated for agriculture. A nice prospect, I will tell you about it shortly.
Enjoy your meal. And I mean everyone, though. Because nobody should be excluded.
Study reference: Nature Sustainability, DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0465-1