In news that will surprise, well, almost everyone, researchers from Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say that it's possible to feed the world sustainably by 2050, when the planet's population is expected to balloon to more than 9 billion people. Perhaps most surprising of all, we can all still eat meat three times a week in good conscience. And according to the researchers, we can do all this and abandon the environmentally damaging intensive farming practices of Big Agriculture. Of course, there are number of "buts" in this scenario.
The biggest caveat of the Potsdam study is that world meat consumption has to decrease considerably. Sixty billion animals are raised for consumption every year—a figure that will double by 2050—and these animals drastically cut down on the land available for crop growth. That's not to say that everyone needs to give up meat altogether. On average, the researchers estimate that the proportion of animal protein in diets will have to decrease to 30%, compared to the global average of 38%. That relatively small decrease could free up millions of acres of cropland and pasture, cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the pressure on factory farms to keep animals in close confinement. All for a few less trips to McDonald's every week.
The Potsdam report also recommends that we ditch pesticide-heavy farming methods and focus on organic agriculture, which could cut down on soil erosion and increase biodiversity. So while quality organic fruits and vegetables are currently relegated to expensive farmer's markets, even the world's poor could have access to organic produce if so-called "mainstream" agricultural research is redirected towards sustainability.
But is any of this likely to happen? If corporations like Monsanto and Cargill have their way, probably not. Agribusiness will have to be both ethical and profitable if the world's supply of food is to be secured.