The current world population is 7.5 billion. By 2050, the United Nations estimates our population will grow to 9.7 billion people.
How will we feed them all?
The wrong way to do it
The conventional thinking seems to be: To feed more people, we need to make farms bigger and cut down forests for livestock grazing. After all, it takes more land to feed more people.
Or does it? Is that really the answer?
A 2016 study from the Global Land Project says No. The research team came up with a list of not one, not a few, but 500 options for how we might be producing and consuming food in 2050.
Out of those options, they identified some that will NOT work well to feed all those people:
- Increasing crop yields with fertilizers. Using ammonium nitrate fertilizer pollutes our air, land, and water. So the last thing we need to do is use more of the stuff.
- Cutting down more forests. We’re already losing too many trees. These “lungs of the planet” are great at eating up carbon emissions. Plus, they provide a host of other benefits. The world needs more trees, not fewer!
- Eating as much meat as we do now. Polluting emissions from livestock account for 14.5% of worldwide emissions, and cattle ranching is responsible for 70% of Amazon deforestation. Clearly, we’re eating unsustainable amounts of beef.
So what will work?
Simple but powerful solutions
Sometimes, the most effective solutions turn out to be surprisingly simple. That may be true for food. Some researchers believe we can grow plenty of food for everyone, while keeping our planet healthy.
To do that, we don’t need bigger farms, fewer trees, or more fertilizers. We just need to do a few simple but powerful things:
Eat less beef
The great thing about this is that it’s something we can all do. And it doesn’t require that you become a vegan. Just cutting back can make a significant difference. Already, by eating less beef and other high-impact foods, Americans have cut our per-capita dietary carbon emissions by about 10%. That’s like taking approximately 57 million cars off the road!
A researcher from the Global Land Project says this individual action is even more powerful than agricultural innovations. Own your power! Make a choice today to eat less meat, and make a real impact.
Support small farms
When stuff is produced at scale, you get economies of scale — right?
Not necessarily so with farming. As author David Montgomery points out, small, “alternative” farms tend to use less toxic pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics than what we know as “factory farms” — or the more conventional western way of producing food.
He also notes that small, diversified farms actually produce over twice as much food per acre as large factory farms. And they produce more kinds of food in the same amount of space.
By supporting your small, local farms, you can help them continue to succeed.
Restore soil on farms
This isn’t just a theory. Farmers around the world are already taking steps to restore used-up soil. And it’s working.
Why is this important? Because conventional farming makes soil less healthy, till it becomes unable to support crops.
We can change that — as farmers around the world are proving — by switching to no-till farming methods, using cover crops, and rotating crops as needed. This has the added benefit of requiring less fertilizer, pesticides, and even water to produce higher yields.
So restoring soil on farms does less harm to our planet, while enabling us to grow more food. And it ends up costing farmers less, which increases their profits.
A change in our thinking
We don’t need new technology or fancy agricultural advances to better feed the world. We just need to think about the problem a bit differently.
Part of this is making some basic changes on farms. And a powerful part is something we can all do: be part of changing the demand side of the equation. Eat less meat. Support local farms, especially if they use soil-restoring farming practices.
We all have the power to make a difference. And we can do it in simple ways. It can start with what you’re having for dinner tonight!