An international team of researchers recently received a $3.5 million grant from NASA to map the world’s crops. Using satellite data, NASA is hoping to create an information system that tracks what crops are being grown around the world and whether or not they are “irrigated or rain-fed.”

The information collected from the mapping project is expected to help forecast harvests, observe the global effects of climate change on crops, and determine where food aid is needed most.

The project is being developed in anticipation of increased global food demand over the next century. The world population is expected to increase by 2 billion between now and 2050, according to the United Nations. The mapping project will help establish where crop growth is most productive, which will be critical information as water demand increases along with population growth.

By 2050, the United Nations projects that global food demand will increase by 70%. Adding to the challenge of growing food demand is an increase in food prices. The NASA mapping project will hopefully mitigate both issues by presenting scientists with the data necessary to determine which areas are most conducive to crop growth throughout the world. More successful crop yields will help cushion from spikes in food prices, allowing more people throughout the world to purchase nutritious foods.

– Jordan Kline

Source: United Nations, Arizona Daily Sun
Photo: United Nations

Feeding the Population by 2050: a "Balancing Act"
It is being referred to as ‘The Great Balancing Act’: three needs that must all be addressed in order to sustainably feed the growing population of the world, projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050. They are as follows:

1. Closing the gap between the amount of food available today, and the amount required by 2050

With the global population projected to increase by 2.3 billion in the next 35 years, worldwide food will need to increase significantly. Add to that the potential entrance of 3 billion people into the global middle class and demands will increase for more expensive, resource-intensive foods, and the increase in production will need to be drastic. Some sources suggest there will need to be an increase of 60% from levels of production in 2006.

2. Agriculture contributing to inclusive economic and social development

Agriculture accounts for only 3% of global GDP, and yet employs more than 2 billion people. By increasing the growth of the agricultural sector, a greater impact can be made on poverty reduction than simply economic growth. Improving agriculture could also benefit women, who make up 41% of the global agricultural workforce, and even more than that in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

3. Reducing the impact of agriculture on natural resources and the environment

37% of the planet’s landmass (excluding Antarctica) is used to grow food, a third of that for cropland and the rest for grazing. If deserts, permanent ice, and inland lakes are removed from the calculation as well, the percentage rises to 50%. Yet agriculture continues to expand, leading to massive deforestation in the tropics and significant loss and degradation of ecosystems.

Further, 24% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 could be attributed to agriculture, including methane from livestock, nitrous oxide from fertilizers, or carbon dioxide from machinery, as well as the land-use change caused by agriculture. Water consumption also creates a significant strain on the environment, with 70% of all freshwater taken from rivers, lakes and aquifers going to agricultural production.

The significance of ‘The Great Balancing Act’ is that all three of these needs must be addressed, and yet they can at times appear at odds with one another. No one in isolation can produce the required results, but in the right combination could mean sufficient production to meet nutritional demands, whilst simultaneously contributing to other important social issues, like poverty reduction, gender equality, environmental conservation, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainable freshwater management.

– David Wilson
Source: World Resources Institute, Environmental Justice
Photo: Tourist Attitude