A study in Nature has shown that it could be possible to meet the nutritional needs of the predicted 9.6 billion people who will live on Earth in 2050, even without further deforestation.
The study modelled 500 different food production scenarios using regional forecasts supplied by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. It aimed to determine which scenarios would potentially provide sufficient food for the predicted global population.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Karl-Heinz Erb said:
“All the scenarios we have considered come with completely different ecological costs. Some of them have a high environmental pressure, and some of them have a lower environmental pressure, and we found that this is strongly determined by the diet.”
In the unlikely event of a completely vegan future, 100% of the scenarios modeled would provide sufficient food without expanding existing croplands and allowing for low-intensity farming methods such as organic farming. Vegetarianism also allowed for success in the majority of scenarios whereas the current Western meat-rich diet required high-intensity farming methods and a great deal of farmland expansion.
Sustainable agriculture expert Professor Richard Eckard of the University of Melbourne reviewed the study cautiously and pointed to several potential practical limitations of some of the scenarios. He pointed to the fact that natural grasslands such as the African Savannah are unsuitable for cropping and that livestock provide much of the energy for farming in the developing world. According to Professor Eckard, these are important considerations that were not accounted for in the study.
The authors of the study point out that it is only intended as a starting point for further debate.