The problem is stark: One billion people on earth don't have enough food right now. It's estimated that by 2050 there will be more than nine billion people living on the planet.
Meanwhile, current agricultural practices are amongst the biggest threats to the global environment. This means that if we don't develop more sustainable practices, the planet will become even less able to feed its growing population than it is today.
But now a team of researchers from Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Germany has come up with a plan to double the world's food production while reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture. Their findings were recently published in the journal Nature.
By combining information gathered from crop records and satellite images from around the world, they have been able to create new models of agricultural systems and their environmental impacts that are truly global in scope.
McGill geography professor Navin Ramankutty, one of the team leaders on the study, credits the collaboration between researchers for achieving such important results. "Lots of other scholars and thinkers have proposed solutions to global food and environmental problems. But they were often fragmented, only looking at one aspect of the problem at one time. And they often lacked the specifics and numbers to back them up. This is the first time that such a wide range of data has been brought together under one common framework, and it has allowed us to see some clear patterns. This makes it easier to develop some concrete solutions for the problems facing us."
A five-point plan for feeding the world while protecting the planet
The researchers recommend:
The study also outlines approaches to the problem that would help policy-makers reach informed decisions about the agricultural choices facing them. "For the first time, we have shown that it is possible to both feed a hungry world and protect a threatened planet," said lead author Jonathan Foley, head of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. "It will take serious work. But we can do it."