Imagine this: everyone on the planet wants to – and can – have a healthy, varied diet. It sounds great, doesn’t it? But, right now, it’s impossible to achieve. The current global agriculture system can’t grow enough fruits and vegetables for everyone, according to a new study from the University of Guelph.
“We simply can’t all adopt a healthy diet under the current global agriculture system,” said Prof. Evan Fraser, a co-author.
“Results show that the global system currently overproduces grains, fats, and sugars, while production of fruits and vegetables and, to a smaller degree, protein is not sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of the current population,” he added.
Researchers calculated how much food would be consumed by the world’s population if everyone followed Harvard University’s nutritional guidelines, which recommend a diet composed of 25% protein, fat and dairy, 25% whole grains, and 50% fruits and vegetables.
Then, going from the amount of arable land that is currently used for agriculture, they calculated the amount that would be needed to grow food for a population with a healthy diet. Finally, they projected these numbers for 2050, when the global population should reach 9.8 billion.
What they found: for each human, we currently produce 12 servings of grains instead of the recommended 8; 5 servings of fruits and vegetables instead of 15; 3 servings of oil and instead of 1; 3 servings of protein instead of 5; and 4 servings of sugar instead of none.
It’s more efficient to grow fruits and vegetables than grains
Producing grains has been, and still is, the focus of many countries.
In developing countries, this owes to the fact that carbohydrates are easy to produce and can feed many people.
In developed nations, grain and corn production has been subsidized for decades so that they could “become self-sufficient and establish global leadership in their production. These countries have also spent far more money on research and innovation for these crops than for fruits and vegetables.”
However, growing more fruits and vegetables and fewer grains, fat and sugars would lead to a reduction in the amount of arable land needed to feed the world – 50 million acres, to be exact.
But how could we get there? According to the study authors, it would take big changes in diets across the globe. The most important would be to reduce consumption of meat, substituting it with plant-based protein.
If the panorama doesn’t change, it will take another 12 million acres of arable land and a billion acres of pasture land to feed the 9.8 billion people expected to populate the Earth by 2050.