Feeding 11 billion on 0.5 billion hectare of area under cereal crops

Despite impressive increase in global grain production since 1960s, there are 795 million food-insecure and similar to 2 billion people prone to malnutrition. Further, global population of 7.4 billion in 2016 is projected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, with almost all increase occurring in developing countries. Thus, it is recommended that global food production be increased by 60 to 70% between 2005 and 2050. Global crop production increased threefold between 1965 and 2015 with a net increase of only 67 million ha (Mha) of cropland area. Nonetheless, agronomic yield of food staples can still be tripled or quadrupled in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), South Asia (SA), and the Caribbean by a widespread adoption of site-specific best management practices of sustainable intensification (SI). Rather than expanding the area under cropland, agriculturally marginal and degraded soils can be set aside for nature conservancy. The global average cereal yield of 3.27Mgha(-1) in 2005 can be increased to 5Mgha(-1) by 2050, 6Mgha(-1) by 2080 and 7Mgha(-1) by 2100 through SI of agroecosystems in SSA, SA and elsewhere. The strategy of producing more from less necessitates restoration of soil health and increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) concentration to be more than 1.5-2.0% in the rootzone. The goal of SOC sequestration is in accord with the 4 per Thousand initiative proposed at COP21 in 2015. Therefore, global food demands can be met despite the decreasing trends in the per capita cropland area by 2050 - 0.17ha in the world and 0.15ha in developing countries. While enhancing productivity by SI, the strategy is to simultaneously reduce food waste, increase access and distribution of food, and promote plant-based diet. The goal is to reconcile high production with better environmental quality, develop urban agriculture (aquaponics, aeroponics, and vertical farms), promote nutrition-sensitive farming, and restore degraded soils. Sustainable intensification of agroecosystems can produce enough food grains to feed one person for a year on 0.045ha of arable land.

Lal, R. (2016). Feeding 11 billion on 0.5 billion hectare of area under cereal crops. Food and Energy Security, 5(4), 239-251. doi:10.1002/fes3.99
Media Type: 
Journal Article

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