Academic journal article Science and Children

Swapping Crops Could Feed Millions

Academic journal article Science and Children

Swapping Crops Could Feed Millions

Article excerpt

Redrawing the global map of crop distribution on existing farmland could help meet growing demand for food and biofuels in coming decades while significantly reducing water stress in agricultural areas, according to a new study.

The study is the first to attempt to address both food production needs and resource sustainability simultaneously, at a global scale. The results show that "there are a lot of places where there are inefficiencies in water use and nutrient production," says lead author Kyle Davis. Those inefficiencies could be fixed, he says, by swapping in crops that have greater nutritional quality and lower environmental impact.

Agricultural demand is forecasted to grow substantially over the next few decades due to population growth, richer diets, and biofuel use. Meanwhile, water stress is expected to worsen with climate change and as global aquifers are rapidly depleted. In an attempt to address these twin challenges, the authors looked at crop water-use models and yield maps for 14 major food crops that make up 72% of all crops harvested around the world: groundnut, maize, millet, oil palm, rapeseed, rice, roots, sorghum, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane, sunflowers, tubers, and wheat. Fruits and vegetables were not included because good data on their water requirements were not available.

The new crop maps would produce 10% more calories and 19% more protein--enough to feed an additional 825 million people while reducing consumption of rainwater by 14% and irrigation water by 12%. …

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