How to Feed the World Population Sustainably by the End of the Century

Camargue rise risotto with fried tofu and roasted vegetables

Taking Stock — Some Basic Numbers

Numbers on Food Energy Consumption

Projected world population growth (Our world in Data)

Numbers on Food Energy Production

Global land use for food production (Our World in Data)

Sustainable production & consumption

Land use of foods per 1000 kcal from Our World in Data, see (1) below.
  • Basket #1: Plants only — at 1.5m²/1000kcal land use or 666.7 kcal/m² land efficiency: a balanced mix in terms of energy in protein, fat and carbohydrates as well as nutrients by containing a varied diet of maize, rice, potatoes, lentils, beans, wheat & rye¹, various nuts as well as derived products such as tofu;
  • Basket #2: White meats & eggs — at 6m²/1000kcal land use or 166.7kcal/m² land efficiency: an assortment of meats that are relatively efficient to produce in terms of energy and protein such as poultry, pork and eggs as well as fish from aquaculture;
  • Basket #3: Dairy products — at 18m²/1000kcal land use or 55.6kcal/m² land efficiency: dairy milk and all its derivatives, from milk over butter and yoghurt to the finest cheeses;
  • Basket #4: Red meats — at 120m²/1000kcal land use or 8.3kcal/m² land efficiency: this comprises beef, lamb and mutton.
  • 80% of cropland to produce a plant based baseline,
  • 20% of cropland to produce white meat and eggs,
  • 20% of pastureland to produce milk & dairy,
  • 80% of pastureland to produce red meat.

Plant Based Baseline

Poultry & Eggs

Cheese on Toast

The Sunday Roast

What about the Vegetables?

Thanks for All the Fish

Consequences for Agriculture

  • Part-time farming: since smaller family farms won’t be able to make a living from growing commodity crops, protein rich or other, the farm has to be run part-time, with the main family income from other employment;
  • Land and farm consolidation: the minimum size for a commercially viable farm will result into concentration of farms, first through renting and working more land, eventually through acquisition;
  • Niche products: for a small number of farms only, as niche products are usually for a limit market with higher purchasing power.

Societal impact

Notes

  1. As a personal check of the figures in the chart Land use of foods per 1000 kilocalories, let’s look at wheat & rye at 1.44m²/1000kcals, or its inverse, ~700kcals/m². At an energy density of 3.4kcal/g for wheat this would translate into roughly 206g/m² or 2,060kg/ha. On our family farm in Austria we used to harvest about 6,000kg wheat per hectare, so about 3 times more. I suppose the values given by Our-World-In-Data are averages across the globe including areas with poorer soil and less input such as fertiliser; the latter are expected to produce much less and will naturally decrease the average weighted by land surface.
  2. A short remark on bio-fuels. Suppose rapeseed is used as an input to the production of bio-fuel. Rapeseed yield can be up to 3,000kg/ha per harvest, i.e. 0.3kg/m²; 1kg rapeseed contains about 0.5kg oil; with oil containing 38MJ/kg the energy gained is consequently 5.7MJ/m². This energy spread over one year (1 harvest per year) results in 5,700,000J /365/24/60/60 s = 0.180W/m² average power. Conversion to bio-diesel incurs certainly some additional losses. In contrast, the solar irradiation at sea level is about 1kW. With on average 4h/day and an efficiency of 20%, a 1m² solar panel would produce an about 1000*4/24*0.20 = 33W average power. Therefore, a factor of 184 more power can harvested from solar panels than from growing rapeseed to produce bio-fuels. Consequently, bio-fuels from crops are indeed questionable in terms of efficiency.
  3. A short remark on vegan or vegetarian diet. Life on earth appears to be an intricate and intertwined system of living entities, transforming in essence an-organic matter into complex beings through many interactions, during evolution and at any time of the day. Such transformations need energy as well as other organic compounds as inputs, i.e. food at different levels of complexity. For some beings, ingesting other another living being is the easiest and most efficient way to live and grow. Some carnivores such as cats need to eat meat and the contained protein in order to survive; Omnivores like humans can live off all sorts of inputs at various levels of complexity. Cats have little choice, biologically and probably mentally; humans do have a choice, biologically and through their consciousness: ingesting food of lower complexity and let the body do the work, or ingest beings at a higher stage of the food chain, i.e. mammals. It does not need to be one or the other extreme, however, but a sustainable combination.

--

--

--

Works on the technological foundations of autonomous vehicles at Five, UK. Interested in personal mobility, renewable energy and regenerative agriculture.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Antarctica Just Shed an Iceberg the Size of Delaware

Discover Cake Delta 8 Disposable

Australia’s Cute Babies!

Setting up the Microsoft Planetary Computer

Gerd Leonard’s ELF Policy Paper on the Future of Europe: Capitalism, Technology and Sustainability

TECHNOLOGY TRANSITIONS ARE ALWAYS TOUGH.

Sustainability Reporting

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Peter Wurmsdobler

Peter Wurmsdobler

Works on the technological foundations of autonomous vehicles at Five, UK. Interested in personal mobility, renewable energy and regenerative agriculture.

More from Medium

COP-26: Dilution Of Equity By The Global North

Global Warming, Climate Change, or Climate Crisis?

Why measurement is the acid test for sustainability progress

SeaChange: A Solution for Plastic Waste