Feeding 10 billion in 2050’s sauna (Part III)

What future for agriculture on a hotter planet?

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy. His previous article on BNC was: Feeding the billions on a hotter planet (Part II)


Welcome to Part III of my still presumptuously titled series on feeding the world in 2050.

I spent the first two parts of this series looking at global authorities like the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation) with its predictive obsession and its policy associate IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) with its meat obsession. Writing in a similarly obsessed country with far more cattle than people, I felt compelled to add a special section on protein and to also quantify the place of meat, particularly sheep and cattle meat, on the world food stage. Cattle are a major player in climate change, biodiversity loss and general environmental destruction but both they and sheep are globally irrelevant to food security. But worse than being irrelevant, their net contribution may well be negative. Here are some of the negative impacts:

  1. Reductions in the productivity of the land that produces real food. These reductions are via physical soil damage, consumption of crop residues which protect the soil, the deliberate burning of areas that are croppable to maintain them as pasture.
  2. Fouling water. Lack of clean water is the second biggest cause of malnutrition.
  3. Acting as disease generators. I mentioned Cryptosporidium in the last post, but livestock are also major generators of novel rotavirus strains. Rotavirus kills a million children annually, with vaccination not always available in the developing world. We don’t need new strains.
  4. The direct sickening and killing of children and women via the use of animal dung as a fuel.
  5. The reduction in the global food supply by making feed production more profitable than food production. The last impact doesn’t always apply to sheep and cattle but is more general. People with the perspicacity to easily recognise this problem in the context of biofuels are almost universally blind to its existence elsewhere.

Today, in the last of the series, I want to look some standout scientific work that breaks the predictive meat obsessed mould. This is work by Jonathan Foley and Navin Ramankutty and a sizeable group of associated researchers. I’ll call this the “FR” work, but keep in mind that there are many other researchers involved.

This work breaks the mold because it isn’t concerned with mere prediction, like that of the FAO. Nor is it obsessed with meat as a food but rather it recognises meat’s central role in reducing global food Calories.

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