HomeNewsDespite sufficient crop harvests, we will fall short of UN food security goal

Despite sufficient crop harvests, we will fall short of UN food security goal

University of Minnesota Senior Research Scientist Deepak Ray, with global collaborators, mapped crop harvests for seven end-uses and found that harvests of crops for direct food use will be insufficient to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SD2) of food security for all by 2030

The top ten global crops (barley, cassava, maize/corn, palm oil, rapeseed/canola, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugar cane, and wheat) currently account for over 80 percent of all harvested crop calories. Today, we grow and harvest sufficient total calories from these crops to meet food security demands, and will likely continue in the future. But, not all harvested crop calories are used for direct food consumption. Increased competition for crops for other uses means a smaller fraction of harvested calories are available to feed people.

The maps show that, since the 1960s, the fraction of crops harvested for direct food consumption have decreased while harvest for processing (livestock feed, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils), export, and industrial use (ethanol, bioplastics, pharmaceuticals) have increased globally. If the trend continues out to 2030, only about 26 percent of global calories harvested may be for direct food consumption. 

Global maps showing fraction of harvest use. Trend explained best in article text.

These maps show the fraction of crop harvest being used in one of seven categories– food, feed, processing, export, industrial use, seed, and loss for periods between 1964-1968 and 2009-2013, respectively.

Increasing wealth and the growing middle-class demand for high-value, processed foods, meat and dairy products, and other convenient commodities are creating increasing pressure for agricultural producers to specialize in high-yield crops specifically grown for uses other than direct food consumption. As the agricultural sector responds to these consumer demands, food insecure populations are being overlooked. Especially in areas where those people are also trapped in poverty, specifically regions of Africa and Asia, but also elsewhere such as Haiti in the Caribbean.

The research went on to determine that at least 31 countries will probably fail to meet their food needs by 2030, even if all in-country harvested calories were diverted to direct food consumption. An additional 17 countries will not be able to meet the food demands of their expected population growth in the same time frame, which will likely worsen the food insecurity burden on their undernourished populations. 

“Our maps can be used to first understand why we harvest crops around the world, and see how it has changed and is changing further, “ says Ray. “With this information, we can start creating sound policies that address food security needs at global and local levels, though it is not going to be easy. But at least we now have a starting point of viewing agriculture as it truly is.”

Solutions to global food insecurity are complex. Simply using more land for agricultural production leads to significant loss of natural landscapes that provide other ecological and sustainability benefits. Agriculture-sector livelihoods and economic justice depend on producers having choice over what to grow and where to sell their harvested product based on market influences.

You can access the full paper, ‘Crop harvests for direct food use insufficient to meet UN’s food security goal’ at Nature Food’s website.

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