Nutrition and crops efficiency
Providing adequate amounts of food for the growing population of the world without turning new areas into farmland might appear an extremely difficult challenge. However, scientists are striving to take up this challenge.
An initiative by the staff of the Institute of Environment at the University of Minnesota provides an interesting example. They believe that the solution to the problem is improving the system of food production. Consequently, they put forward a set of rules, which aim at fulfilling global demand for food and reducing the negative impact of the mismanaged farms on the natural environment.
According to a report they published, it is advisable to focus on 17 key types of crops, whose production satisfies 86% of the global demand for calories, and which require the highest amount of fertilizers and water on a worldwide scale. For each of those 17 types of plants, the crucial tasks were numerated for the NGO’s, charities, local authorities and enterprises and citizens. Also, the countries in which increasing the efficiency of crops might prove the most successful were named. Those states include China, India, the USA, Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan, as well as the European Union treated as a whole.
How to produce more food on a global scale
The scientists defined the three main objectives: the production of more food, more efficient cultivation of plants and more efficient use of farmland.
1. Production of more food on the existing farmland
Research has shown that many regions of the world suffer as a result of a deficit of production in relation to the acreage of land used for farming. If we managed to reduce this disparity by 50% only in those areas where the deficit is the largest, enough food to feed 850 million people would be produced. Africa is the region where this problem is the most acute, while Asia and Eastern Europe are next on the list.
2. Making plant cultivation more efficient and less harmful to the environment at the same time
Farming is currently responsible for 20-35% of the increased greenhouse gases emission. The reasons are carbon dioxide production resulting from the deforestation of rainforests, methane produced by livestock and rice plantations, as well as nitrogen oxides which result from excessive use of artificial fertilizers. The problem of deforestation is the most serious in Brazil and Indonesia. The negative impact of rice cultivation is mainly seen in China and India. Research has also proven that the reduction of the excessive impact of agriculture on climatic change and improvement of crops efficiency is feasible on condition that fertilizers and water supply are used adequately. The USA, China and India need to improve their approach to fertilization. According to research, the use of nitrogen is 60% higher than required, and the use of phosphorous is 50% higher than the quantity the plants really require in order to develop in an adequate manner. Specialists have also noticed that farmers waste an enormous volume of water, which could be economized and re-used if the water management was proper. Experts believe that improved water management could help reduce its use by 8-15%, while the yields would remain on the same level. The leaders in artificial fertilization are India, Pakistan, China and USA.
3. More effective use of plantations
The large majority of calories produced by mankind is used as fodder for farm animals. However, the quantity of calories absorbed by animals is often much higher than the real need. It does not translate into the calorie intake of people who consume the meat. Farm animals currently consume plant-based calories which could feed four billion people. The largest calorie losses resulting from using plant-based calories as fodder concern the USA, China and Western Europe. Moreover, 30 to 50% of food produced worldwide is wasted. Not only because of the low awareness of the people, but also in the process of meat production. For example, the loss of one kilogram of pure beef is equivalent to wasting 24 kilograms of wheat due to poor efficiency of using corn to produce meat.
Sustainable farming as a challenge and an opportunity
Sustainable production of food is one of the challenges posed to mankind by the changing world. Agriculture is an expansive business, turning an ever increasing proportion of land into farmland. It is also the main consumer of water available and the main source of greenhouse gases emissions. The authors of the report by the University of Minnesota believe that is it crucial to focus on particular areas, types of crops and practices, and take appropriate measures to produce food in the optimal way, protecting the natural environment at the same time.