A new projection reported last week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that global demand for food could double by the year 2050 and put major agricultural stress on the environment.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota found that unless global agricultural processes are re-examined, producing the amount of food needed could significantly increase levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen in the environment. The expected environmental impact will result from the forest-clearing practices used in many poorer countries to create suitable farmland.
The researchers believe that nations that have perfected more land-friendly farm practices that lessen soil depletion could offer assistance and advice to less-developed countries to increase agricultural production at a minimal cost to the environment. Under current practices, the article says, poorer nations will have cleared about 2.5 billion acres of forests to develop farmland by 2050.
According to the research, in 2005 crop yields for the wealthiest nations were more than 300 percent higher than yields for the poorest nations. The researchers believe that by implementing modern farming practices — like the efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer — in less-developed nations, global crop yields could rise while the amount of forest land destroyed falls.
“The results challenge wealthy nations to invest technologically in underyielding nations to alter the current global trajectory of agricultural expansion,” said Saran Twombly, program director for the National Science Foundation Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.