How To Feed 7 Billion People

By: Michele Wolfson

As of last week, the world population count has reached the astronomical amount of 7 billion inhabitants. While there's clearly room for such an exorbitant amount of people, many are questioning whether there will be sufficient food to feed all of these mouths. The increasing population and its equally increasing consumption are placing high demands on the need to improve our current food production system. Large-scale industrial agriculture, which is supported by our government, believes that "more is more"-meaning they want more yield from crops, more chemicals, more fertilizer, more genetically engineered seeds.

This formula to cure world hunger has obviously not worked. Our current food system leaves nearly 15 percent of the world population starving and 50 million residents of the world's richest country hungry, while still wasting an astounding amount of food. Not to mention, it is degrading land, water, and other environmental issues on a global scale while also ignoring the negative health effects it causes to its consumers.

While these facts are discouraging, there is still some hope. A team of international scientists let by Dr. Jonathan of the University of Minnesota's Institute of the Environment concluded that we can indeed produce enough food for the world. What's even better is that we can do so in a way that both minimizes environmental and climate damage while treating water as a precious resource.

Yet, a few adjustments to our approach to agriculture will have to be made. The to-do list is not very lengthy:

  1. Close agricultural "yield gaps" on underperforming lands while minimizing farming's environmental footprint.
  2. Discontinue agricultural expansion into sensitive areas, such as rainforests. Much of that new farmland is former tropical rainforest -- and it turns out that converted rainforest land is neither productive as farmland nor climate smart, since creating it releases huge amounts of carbon sequestered in trees.
  3. Reduce waste- Stop squandering so much food.
  4. Shifting diets- Eat less meat and put less food (i.e. ethanol) into our gas tanks.

Looking at the big picture is the key to finding a successful way to end world hunger without causing damage to our health and planet. Foley's team believes that these agricultural strategies could double food production while greatly reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture. Though the changes that need to be made are few, they will not be easy to put into action. However, this seems to be our best and only option if we want to successfully feed 7 billion people without destroying our environment.

Photo: James Cridland

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