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The world can feed itself without ruining the planet, study says

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Zhang Hongxiang/Xinhua/Photoshot/Newscom

(Read caption) A farmer loads potatoes on a truck on a farmland in Hui-Tu Autonomous County of Datong, northwest China's Qinghai Province.

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Recent global population growth estimates (10 billion by 2100, anyone?) plus slowing annual increases in agricultural yields have a lot of analysts worried that many of those new people will suffer from chronic hunger – and that much of the land that hasn’t been converted to agriculture will be plowed under to grow crops.

But a new study in the journal Nature argues that we can feed the world’s growing population without destroying the planet… if we make major adjustments now in agricultural and consumption practices and patterns. (Hey, if it were easy, we’d already be there, right?)

Based on new data about the Earth’s agricultural lands and crop yields, the study offers some core strategies to meet future food production needs and environmental challenges. Those strategies include:

  • Stop farming in places like tropical rainforests, which have high ecological value and low food output;
  • Improve crop yields in regions of Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, where farmland isn’t meeting its potential;
  • Change farming practices to better manage water, nutrients, and chemicals;
  • Shift diets away from meat; and
  • Stop wasting food (up to 1/3 of all food grown is wasted either in production, transport, or after purchase).

Taken together, these strategies could lead to 100-180 percent more food available for consumption and sustain the lakes, rivers, forests, and soil that food production depends on.

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