Increasing competition for many of the world’s important crops is sending increasing quantities for uses other than directly feeding people. These competing uses include the production of biofuels; convert crops into processing ingredients such as beef meal, hydrogenated oils and starches; and sell them on global markets to countries that can afford them.
Many crops grown for export, processing, and industrial uses are specially bred varieties of the top ten crops we reviewed. For example, only about 1 percent of corn grown in the United States is sweet corn, the kind people eat fresh, frozen, or canned. The remainder is mainly so-called field corn, which is used to make biofuels, feed and food additives.
Crops planted for these uses produce more calories per unit of land than crops harvested for direct food use, and this gap is widening. In our study, we calculated that industrial crops already produce twice as many calories as crops harvested for direct food consumption and their yield increases 2.5 times faster.
The amount of protein per unit of land from processing crops is double that of food crops and is increasing at a rate of 1.8 times that of food crops. Crops harvested for direct food consumption had the lowest yields across all metrics and the lowest improvement rates.
More food for the hungry
What does it mean to reduce hunger? We estimate that by 2030 the world will harvest enough calories to feed its predicted population, but it will not use most of these crops for direct food consumption.
According to our analysis, 48 countries will not produce enough calories within their borders to feed their populations. Most of these countries are located in sub-Saharan Africa, but they also include Asian nations like Afghanistan and Pakistan and Caribbean countries like Haiti.
Scientists and agriculture experts have worked to increase the productivity of food crops in countries where many people are undernourished, but the earnings so far have not been enough. There may be ways to persuade richer nations to grow more food and divert that extra production to undernourished countries, but this would 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 and to increase their crops. Ending poverty, the UN’s main sustainable development goal, will also allow countries that cannot produce enough food to meet their domestic needs to import from other suppliers. Without further focusing on the needs of undernourished people around the world, eliminating hunger will remain a distant goal.
* Deepak Ray is a senior scientist at the University of Minnesota (USA).
** AndThis article has been republished from the site The conversation with Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.
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