It may be possible to feed the growing population sustainably, according to a new study. The authors propose a set of measures to make this work.
The study, published in the journal Nature, describes what is needed to feed 10 billion people sustainably by 2050.
The study combined detailed environmental accounts with a model of the global food system that tracks the production and consumption of food across the world. With this model, the researchers analysed several options that could keep the food system within environmental limits. They found:
Climate change cannot be sufficiently mitigated without dietary changes towards more plant-based diets. Adopting more plant-based “flexitarian” diets globally could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than half, and also reduce other environmental impacts, such as fertiliser application and the use of cropland and freshwater, by a tenth to a quarter.
In addition to dietary changes, improving management practices and technologies in agriculture is required to limit pressures on agricultural land, freshwater extraction, and fertiliser use. Increasing agricultural yields from existing cropland, balancing application and recycling of fertilizers, and improving water management, could, along with other measures, reduce those impacts by around half.
Finally, halving food loss and waste is needed to keep the food system within environmental limits. Halving food loss and waste could, if globally achieved, reduce environmental impacts by up to a sixth (16%).
The researchers found that no single measure is enough to keep these effects within all planetary boundaries simultaneously, and that a synergistic combination of measures will be needed to sufficiently mitigate the projected increase in environmental pressures.