By 2050, the world population should reach 9 billion people. Considering that about 70% of global freshwater is used for the irrigation of agricultural crops – which secure about 40% of food – the pressure on water needs will increase exponentially.

To keep up with this need and, at the same time, protect freshwater ecosystems, there are several measures that need to be put into motion, according to a new study by researchers from several European universities.

“The results show that, in order to grow our food in a sustainable way that respects environmental needs, it will be necessary to expand land used for farming by 100M hectares – approximately 100M soccer stadiums – by 2050″, so that we can meet food needs that will result from the increase in world population, said Amandine Pastor, one of the study’s authors.

For that to be possible, considering the limited water resources in the world, “it will be necessary to reduce intensive crops in dry areas and redistribute food farming to regions abundant in water,” she added.

Watch: How this farm improved irrigation with technology

Global trade flows will also have to change. An additional flow of 10 to 20% of water-rich regions to water-scarce regions will be necessary in order to respect environmental regulations that guarantee the ecosystems’ health.

“It’s important to understand that natural resources are limited,” Amandine Pastor said. The results of the study show that it will be possible to maintain food security and conservation requirements for freshwater ecosystems until 2050, despite the growing pollution and climate change impact.

But, for that to be possible, “sustainable and innovative practices such as growing crops within appropriate agro-climatic zones (e.g., planting less water-intensive crops in dry areas), developing urban and vertical agriculture, and limiting the share of meat in human diets, should be adopted.”

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