Increasing competition for many of the world’s important agricultural crops is causing more and more of them to be used not only for direct human feeding, but for other purposes as well. These competing uses include biofuel production; converting crops into ingredients for processing such as cattle meal, hydrogenated oils and starches; and sell them on world markets to countries that can afford it.
Many of the crops grown for export, processing and industrial use are specially bred varieties of the top ten crops we reviewed. For example, only about 1% of corn grown in the US is sweet corn, which people eat fresh, frozen, or canned. The rest is mostly so-called field corn, which is used to produce biofuels, animal feed and nutritional supplements.
Crops planted for this purpose produce more calories per unit area than those harvested for direct consumption, and the gap is widening. In our study, we calculated that industrial crops already produce twice as many calories as crops harvested for direct consumption, and their yield increases 2.5 times faster.
The amount of protein per unit area from processed crops is twice that of food crops and increases by 1.8 times compared to food crops. Crops harvested for direct consumption had the lowest yields across all measures and the lowest rates of improvement.
More food for the hungry
What does it mean to reduce hunger? By 2030, we estimate that the world will harvest enough calories to feed a projected population, but will not use most of these crops for direct consumption.
According to our analysis, 48 countries will not produce enough calories within their borders to feed their populations. Most of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, but they also include Asian countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan and Caribbean countries such as Haiti.
Scientists and agriculturalists have been working to improve food crop yields in countries where many people are undernourished, but the results so far have not been enough. There may be ways to convince richer countries to grow more food and redirect that extra production to malnourished countries, but this will be a short-term solution.
My colleagues and I believe that the broader goal should be to get more crops in food insecure countries that are used directly for food production and increase their yields. Poverty eradication, the UN’s main sustainable development goal, will also allow countries that cannot produce enough food to meet their domestic needs to import food from other sources. Without further focus on the needs of undernourished people around the world, ending hunger will remain a distant goal.
* Deepak Ray is a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota (USA).
** EThis article was reprinted from the site Talk licensed under Creative Commons. Read original article Here.
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