Monday, November 15, 2010

Feeding us all

kw: food, agriculture, grains

Some of the people I've been working with on a recent project are food production researchers. Two weeks ago this report forecasting global grain production for 2010 was published. The bottom line:
  • Wheat: 644 mt (million tons)
  • Maize/Corn: 811 mt
  • Rice: 449 mt
The total is 1,730 mt. That works out to about 250 kg/person/yr or 0.69 kg/person/day. Grains are the staples, and provide most of the calories consumed worldwide. While it seems this ought to be enough for all, two factors cut into the total yield, which will be, incidentally, 3% less than last year.

Firstly, in richer nations large amounts of grains are fed to livestock, which are notoriously inefficient: 0.1 calorie produced per calorie consumed (cal/cal) for beef and other ruminants, and 0.3-0.35 cal/cal for poultry. Secondly, corn or maize is being increasingly used as a biofuel, producing ethanol for burning in automobiles rather than food for people. It isn't sustainable.

As much as I enjoy my affluent Western lifestyle, I suspect there will be less of it to enjoy in coming years. Water wars are on the horizon, and food wars are sure to follow. Fighting over food and water are not conducive to increased productivity. Sorry, I don't have a solution to suggest, just a growing worry.

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