How much of the world’s major crops feed humans? You will be surprised

Growing competition for many of the world’s important crops is sending increasing amounts to uses other than directly feeding people. These competing uses include the manufacture of biofuels; converting crops into processing ingredients such as cattle 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% of corn grown in the US is sweet corn, the kind people eat fresh, frozen, or canned. The rest is mainly so-called field corn, which is used to make biofuels, animal feed and food additives.

Crops planted for these uses produce more calories per unit of land than those 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 is increasing 2.5 times faster.

The amount of protein per unit of land from processing crops is twice 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 measurement metrics and the lowest rates of improvement.

More food for the hungry

What does it mean to reduce hunger? We estimate that by 2030, the world will be harvesting enough calories to feed its projected population – but not using 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 in Sub-Saharan Africa, but they also include Asian nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Caribbean countries such as Haiti.

Scientists and agricultural experts have worked to increase the productivity of food crops in countries where many people are undernourished, but the gains so far have not been enough. There may be ways to persuade wealthier nations to grow more food and divert that extra production to undernourished countries, but that would be a short-term solution.

My colleagues and I believe that the broader objective should be to get more crops in food insecure countries that are used directly for food and increase their yields. Ending poverty, the UN’s main sustainable development objective, will also allow countries that cannot produce enough food to meet their domestic needs to import from other suppliers. Without more focus on the needs of the world’s undernourished people, eliminating hunger will remain a distant goal.

* Deepak Ray is a Senior Scientist at the University of Minnesota (USA).

** ANDthis article was republished from the site The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article on here.

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