A shrinking fraction of the world’s major crops goes to feed the hungry, with more used for nonfood purposes: new research

“Rising competition for many of the world’s important crops is sending increasing amounts toward uses other than directly feeding people. These competing uses include making biofuels; converting crops into processing ingredients, such as livestock meal, hydrogenated oils and starches; and selling them on global markets to countries that can afford to pay for them.

In a newly published study, [it is estimated] that in 2030, only 29% of the global harvests of 10 major crops may be directly consumed as food in the countries where they were produced, down from about 51% in the 1960s. We also project that, because of this trend, the world is unlikely to achieve a top sustainable development goal: ending hunger by 2030.

Another 16% of harvests of these crops in 2030 will be used as feed for livestock, along with significant portions of the crops that go to processing. This ultimately produces eggs, meat and milk – products that typically are eaten by middle- and upper-income people, rather than those who are undernourished. Diets in poor countries rely on staple foods like rice, corn, bread and vegetable oils.

The crops that we studied – barley, cassava, maize (corn), oil palm, rapeseed (canola), rice, sorghum, soybean, sugar cane and wheat – together account for more than 80% of all calories from harvested crops. Our study shows that calorie production in these crops increased by more than 200% between the 1960s and the 2010s.

Today, however, harvests of crops for processing, exports and industrial uses are booming. By 2030, we estimate that processing, export and industrial-use crops will likely account for 50% of harvested calories worldwide. When we add the calories locked in crops used as animal feed, we calculate that by 2030, roughly 70% of all harvested calories of these top 10 crops will go to uses other than directly feeding hungry people…

[T]he broader goal should be raising more crops in food-insecure countries that are used directly as food, and increasing their yields. Ending poverty, the U.N.‘s top sustainable development goal, will also enable countries that can’t produce enough food to meet their domestic needs to import it from other suppliers. Without more focus on the needs of the world’s undernourished people, eliminating hunger will remain a distant goal.”

Citation:

Ray, D.K., Sloat, L.L., Garcia, A.S. et al. Crop harvests for direct food use insufficient to meet the UN’s food security goal. Nat Food (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00504-z

Published by greengrass50

My name is Christine McCullum-Gomez, PhD, RDN. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist with expertise in environmental nutrition, food and nutrition policy, food and nutrition security, food justice, chronic disease prevention, regenerative & organic agriculture, and sustainable healthy dietary patterns. Currently, I serve on the Editorial Review Board and as a Column Editor for the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. I live in Bogota, Colombia with my husband, two teenagers (boy-girl twins), and our dog Honey. My website is: www.sustainablerdn.com. You can follow me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/cmccullumgomez/

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