Current global food production trajectory won’t meet 2050 needs

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Crop yields worldwide are not increasing quickly enough to support estimated global needs in 2050, according to a study published June 19 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by research associate Deepak Ray and colleagues from the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota.

Current global food production trajectory won't meet 2050 needs
A new syudy suggests crop yields worldwide are not increasing quickly enough to support estimated global needs in 2050 [Credit: Reuters/Todd Korol]

Previous studies estimate that global agricultural production may need to increase 60-110 percent to meet increasing demands and provide food security. In the current study, researchers assessed agricultural statistics from across the world and found that yields of four key crops — maize, rice, wheat and soybean — are increasing 0.9-1.6 percent every year. At these rates, production of these crops would likely increase 38-67 percent by 2050, rather than the estimated requirement of 60-110 percent. The top three countries that produce rice and wheat were found to have very low rates of increase in crop yields.

“Particularly troubling are places where population and food production trajectories are at substantial odds,” Ray says, “for example, in Guatemala, where the corn-dependent population is growing at the same time corn productivity is declining.”

Current global food production trajectory won't meet 2050 needs
Maps of observed rates of percent yield changes per year. show more Global map of current percentage rates of changes in (a) maize, (b) rice, (c) wheat, and (d) soybean yields. Red areas show where yields are declining whereas the fluorescent green areas show where rates of yield increase – if sustained – would double production by 2050 [Credit: Deepak K. Ray, Nathaniel D. Mueller, Paul C. West, Jonathan A. Foley. Yield Trends Are Insufficient to Double Global Crop Production by 2050. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (6): e66428 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066428]

The analysis maps global regions where yield improvements are on track to double production by 2050 and areas where investments must be targeted to increase yields. The authors explain that boosting crop yields is considered a preferred solution to meet demands, rather than clearing more land for agriculture. They note that additional strategies, such as reducing food waste and changing to plant-based diets, can also help reduce the large estimates for increased global demand for food.

“Clearly, the world faces a looming agricultural crisis, with yield increases insufficient to keep up with projected demands,” says IonE director Jon Foley, a co-author on the study. “The good news is, opportunities exist to increase production through more efficient use of current arable lands and increased yield growth rates by spreading best management practices. If we are to boost production in these key crops to meet projected needs, we have no time to waste.”

Source: University of Minnesota [June 19, 2013]

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