Saturday, November 24, 2018

Feeding the Billions

We could feed an extra 2.8 billion people if we sustainably doubled irrigation across the world’s croplands, a new study posits. The University of California calculated if we strengthened irrigation infrastructure to take maximum advantage of renewable, readily-available ‘green’ water sources–such as rainfall–to fulfill our irrigation needs we could increase the current availability of water for crops by 48%. The effect of this almost-doubled water supply would boost farmers’ yields and ultimately enhance the global production of calories from the world’s top 16 crops by 37%. In  turn, that would generate enough food to feed almost three billion more people than we currently do. In fact, even if all sources of unsustainable water consumption were eliminated, sustainable irrigation and intensification would still enable a 24% increase in food production, the researchers explain.

This increased supply would also enable 50 countries to double their calorie production. Of those, 29 are in Africa–which poses a great potential benefit since this continent has the highest global prevalence of hunger. In fact, a sharp uptick in irrigation investments in Africa would boost calorie production enough to feed 450 million more people there. At the individual country-scale, the study found that China showed the greatest potential benefit from sustainably intensifying irrigation: this practice would enable the country to feed 380 million more of its citizens.

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