Feeding 10 Billion People by 2050: Is It be Possible?

Feeding 10 Billion People by 2050: Is it Possible?

by Dr. Kaushik Bharati on Oct 11 2018 12:47 PM
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  • Feeding 10 billion people by 2050 is a huge challenge
  • Analysis of data on environmental parameters as well as modeling for tracking global food production and consumption was carried out in the study
  • Feeding 10 billion people by 2050 could be possible by switching to a plant-based diet globally
  • Changes in agricultural practices, proper water management, and reducing food wastage would help to reach the goal
Feeding 10 billion people by 2050 may seem to be an impossible task; but not so, as a recent study suggests. The study, published in the journal Nature, indicates that if there could be a shift at the global level to a healthy, plant-based diet, coupled with reduction of food wastage (equivalent to USD 165 billion annually in US alone) by half and use of improved farming practices, then it may be possible to achieve this goal.
Adopting these strategies would appreciably reduce the risk of exceeding the planetary limits of resources currently available. Moreover, this could help limit environmental factors, such as climate change, agricultural land usage, finding freshwater resources, and pollution of various ecosystems.


Details of the Study

This is the first study that provides solid evidence on the effect of food production and food consumption on the planetary limits of vital resources, beyond which these could become unstable at the global level. This could have catastrophic consequences on the survival of humans on Earth.

Dr. Marco Springmann, Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Food and the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, and the Principal Investigator of the study, says: “No single solution is enough to avoid crossing planetary boundaries. But when the solutions are implemented together, our research indicates that it may be possible to feed the growing population sustainably.”

Dr. Springmann goes on to say: “Without concerted action, we found that the environmental impacts of the food system could increase by 50-90% by 2050 as a result of population growth and the rise of diets high in fats, sugars and meat. In that case, all planetary boundaries related to food production would be surpassed, some of them by more than two-fold.”  

The study utilized data on various environmental parameters along with a model for tracking food production and consumption across the globe. This modeling study helped the researchers to analyze several factors that could help to keep planetary food resources within acceptable limits.


Major Research Findings

The researchers found three possible ways by which the goal of keeping global food resources within planetary limits:
  • Dietary Changes: It may be surprising, but dietary changes could actually help control climate change. The study found that by switching to a plant-based diet, could reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by half. Additionally, it could reduce other factors that have an impact on the environment, such as the use of fertilizers, farmland, and freshwater by up to a quarter.
  • Improved Agricultural Practices: Use of technology and proper management of resources in agriculture could reduce the pressure on farmland, freshwater extraction, and fertilizer use. Increasing crop yield from existing farmland, reducing fertilizer application and encouraging recycling, judicious use of freshwater, along with other approaches, could reduce the negative impact on agriculture by half.
  • Reducing Food Wastage: Food loss and food wastage need to be halved in order to keep food resources within environmental limits. This can reduce the environmental impact by a sixth. However, this needs to be done at a global level.


Expert Opinions

Dr. Springmann indicates that although many of the study findings are being implemented in some parts of the world, much more concerted global efforts are required in order to make a real impact.

Line Gordon, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and co-author of the study feels that technological improvements in agriculture will involve more sustained investments for developing infrastructure, as well as providing appropriate incentives to the farmers. This will encourage the farmers to use fertilizers sparingly as well as implement water management strategies. 

Fabrice de Clerck, Director of Science at EAT is of the opinion that reduction of food loss and food wastage will require improvements across the food-chain, from production to transportation, packaging and labeling, as well as changes in legislation.

Dr. Springmann adds: “When it comes to diets, comprehensive policy and business approaches are essential to make dietary changes towards healthy and more plant-based diets possible and attractive for a large number of people. Important aspects include school and workplace programs, economic incentives and labeling, and aligning national dietary guidelines with the current scientific evidence on healthy eating and the environmental impacts of our diet.

Funding Sources

The study was funded by EAT, which forms a part of the EAT-Lancet Commission for Food, Planet and Health. Funds were also provided by the Wellcome Trust’s “Our Planet, Our Health” partnership on Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP).

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