Crops grown on land-grabbed areas in developing countries could feed around 100 million people worldwide, researchers claim.
The improved infrastructure brought about by foreign investment could increase the productivity of subsistence farmlands in countries such as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and could mean these lands can feed at least 300 million people around the world. This is compared to about 190 million people that could be fed if the land was left tended to by the local population.
In their study, Maria Cristina Rulli from Politecnico di Milano and Paolo D'Odorico from University of Virginia, quantified the maximum amount of food that could be produced from crops grown on acquired lands and the number of people that this could feed. They also compared the use of traditional farming techniques to industrialised agricultural methods, to come up with the yield gap.
To arrive at their results, they used a unique dataset of all land deals, greater than 200 hectares, which had occurred after 2000. Each land deal included information regarding the spatial extent of the acquired land, the dominant crop, and whether a deal was concluded with a signed or oral contract, or just intended with an expression of interest.
The researchers calculated the potential maximum crop yield from each of these deals and then used the crop's food calories to determine the amount of people it could feed.
If all of the acquired lands were farmed to their full capacity-a 100 per cent closure of the yield gap-there would be a 308 per cent increase in rice production, a 280 per cent increase in maize production, a 148 per cent increase in sugar cane production, and a 130 per cent increase in oil palm production, the researchers calculated.
Taking into account the proportion of crops that can be used for food production, as well as the amount needed for a "balanced diet", the results showed that between 300 and 550 million people could be fed by crops grown in the acquired land, compared with between 190 and 370 million people that could be fed if the local community used the land without making major investments.
The findings have been published in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters.