In 2050, the global population is expected to reach 10 billion and we’ll need to produce 56% more food (World Resources Institute).
This “calorie gap" between the capacity of our current food production systems and the future demands of a growing population would not raise concerns if our planet had unlimited resources, but we know too well that this is not the reality.
Currently, 68% of global freshwater withdrawals are attributed to agriculture, and 37% of our planet’s landmass (excluding Antarctica) is used for food production. Even more, global food production is responsible for 25% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, and we add over 5 billion pounds of pesticides every year to protect our crops (World Resources Institute). Simply scaling up using the same production methods and consumption behaviors isn’t going to work, so how can we expect to feed more people with our limited natural resources?
Optimize Agricultural Land Use
One promising approach is to implement land-sparing strategies that optimize land use for agriculture. Boosting yields on drylands through improved soil and water management practices can reduce overall water and energy consumption while growing more with less land.
By implementing strategies that more efficiently utilize our land, we can achieve higher agricultural yields that feed the growing population without having to compromise biodiversity, another crucial instrument in producing the world’s food.
For more info on how land-sparing versus land-sharing techniques can be used to reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture check out the insights from Dr. David Williams in this Apeel blog from 2019.
Improve Efficiency Throughout the Supply Chain
In addition to improving agricultural yields, we can focus on the yield across the supply chain to dramatically improve the efficiency with which we use our limited resources.
Roughly one-third of the food we produce never gets eaten, and food loss and waste is prevalent in every supply chain and region of the world.
When we waste food, we are also wasting a startling amount of resources, energy, and money. In the U.S., it requires nearly 780 million pounds of pesticides and 4.2 trillion gallons of water each year on roughly 30 million acres of cropland to grow that food that is eventually sent to landfills (Conrad et al., 2018).
A number of different approaches by stakeholders across the value chain are being used to reduce food waste (see ReFED’s 27 Solutions to Food Waste), and the UN Sustainable Development Goals specifically include a target (SDG 12.3): “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”.
Improving the food system to reduce waste can improve accessibility and the ability to meet future food demand. Simply put, if less food is being wasted, more people can be fed. Learn how Apeel is tackling food waste:
Shift to More Sustainable Diets (i.e. Reduce Meat Consumption)
Beyond food waste, another way to help us feed our growing population is for people to shift to healthier and more sustainable diets, especially those with less meat.
The inefficiencies of meat production place it at the top of the list for intensity of resource use and environmental damage compared to other foods, with red meat -- mainly beef and lamb -- being particularly high-impact (World Resources Institute).
By decreasing the demand for meat, less land will be required to grow animal feed, and more land can be used to grow food for human consumption.
Request Action From Your Representatives
Lastly, we believe everyone can make a difference, no matter how large or small their actions are. Writing your local and state politicians is a great way to get involved in the food system, even if you don’t work in the industry. By urging your representatives to adopt new, environmentally-friendly policies around farming, we can all be one step closer to feeding the future.
Let’s work together to grow the food we will need. Join us in helping create a more sustainable food system!