Current food production is insufficient to feed the world

The current production systems only guarantee food for 6.7 billion people, some one billion less than the world's population. With the current formulas of sustainable production, the situation would worsen: only 45.3% would receive adequate food (2,355 calories per day).

Agriculture industry
Agriculture industry

The production of half of the food now violates the biophysical limits of the planet. A new study published in Nature Sustainability, based on four influential factors (water use, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and fertilizers), concludes that dividing up the tasks to obtain a global balance would supply food to 10.2 billion people and could therefore "eliminate world hunger", as the research suggests.

For now, the balance is not working and the earth is under alarming pressure. The United States (US) and Europe abuse nitrogen - which causes the accumulation of nitrates (NO3) in the soil - while the tropics are dominated by the transformations of natural space that put biodiversity under pressure.

On the other hand, subtropical regions use fresh water without respecting environmental requirements. The study further explains that countries such as India, Iran, and Peru pile up waste and exceed several limits at once. The solution is to distribute the tasks and not to accumulate the pressure in one place, according to the study.

That is, reducing cultivation and irrigation in parts of Asia and bringing it to sub-Saharan Africa, the eastern United States and Europe, and Argentina. In the same dynamic, reduce fertilizer consumption in China, India, and Europe and increase it in Africa and the western United States, for example.

Where to start?

First, it is necessary to understand the benefits of implementing these changes in the established system. Changing our diet, eating from local sources, avoiding meat consumption and reducing food waste will, according to the study, increase production by 36.7%.

On the other hand, an increase of 64.7% would be noted if all production fields improved their irrigation systems and crop management, controlled soil evaporation and achieved greater efficiency in nitrogen consumption so as not to overuse it.

All these aspects have to be addressed at once because they are closely linked. However, there is a spatial pattern, according to Dieter Gerten, lead author of the study and researcher on climate change at the department of geography at Humboldt University in Berlin (Germany).

For example, in rather dry regions such as the Near and the Middle East, Australia, southern Europe (including Spain) or the western United States, it is now more important to protect precious freshwater resources. "Rivers and groundwater reserves must not run dry and, with the improved water management options we are looking at, there is huge potential to save water," he says.

Why hasn't this been done before?

Moving crowds and changing minds is not so easy. This broad rethinking of the production system seems utopian as all countries, without exception, need to agree. In the face of these obstacles, the German scientist is optimistic.

"The world has seen many transformations in the past and agriculture has been reinvented in various ways. Although it may seem utopian now, I believe it is possible to put us on more sustainable paths. In addition, people are rediscovering that health is essential to our lives and that achieving sustainable food systems on a global scale is a valuable goal," says the expert.

Moreover, by demanding changes in the already well-established paradigms, it takes time for them to develop. New ideas are fighting traditions around the world.

"But although there is multiple and strong resistance, many of the solutions we address in the study are already underway in different regions, whether it is the revitalization and reinvention of traditional dryland water management techniques, agro-forestry or trends towards lower meat consumption in Western societies," he concludes.

The study also insists that some areas of the Indian River, Indonesia, the Middle East and parts of Europe will not become self-sufficient despite all these methods and will remain dependent on imports or future innovations that are not yet known.

Karel Callens, bioengineer and deputy head of the hunger eradication department at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), finds all these proposals interesting and, above all, appreciates being able to put figures into something that has long been devised. "But you have to think about continents like Asia and Africa that don't benefit from initiatives or resources like Europe. How are they going to be able to adapt to this system," he asks.

For him, we have to start with the consumers because, as he explains, they are the ones who give the rhythm of production according to their demand and diet. The second actor to take into account are the farmers because they are the beginning of the chain and they have to feel protected in order to take risks and thus increase, not production, but productivity. The expert believes that young people, "the owners of the future", are the key because they still have time to make the right decisions.

Source: by Agathe Cortes via El Pais