With 9B Mouths to Feed by 2050, We Have to Get Busy Now

To feed the 9 billion humans who’ll be living on Earth in 35 years, we’re going to have to double the amount of food available. That would be a challenge even if those same humans weren’t changing the planet’s climate, making it less friendly to farming. But agriculture’s inefficiencies, misuse of fertilizer, and inappropriate crop choices are actually easy to fix. Feeding the world of tomorrow is technologically feasible with existing tools (and some creative thinking). It’ll just take some work.


Problem

Low yield

Farmers will need to produce more food on less land, especially in the developing world.

Solution

Money, seeds, and poop

Seeds bred or engineered for specific soil and climate types and to resist pests or diseases will be key, as will business solutions like One Acre Fund’s combination of fertilizer, finance, and training. You get a big hit just by raising worldwide yields for 16 crops. And then you can stop turning forests into farms.


Problem

Waste

For every 100 calories of food grown, people eat only about 35.

Solution

Sensors and apps

Instead of arbitrary sell-by dates, how about biochemical bacteria monitors so people don’t trash good food? Apps can pair extra food with those who need it. University cafeterias are ditching trays, leading to a 50 percent drop in waste. Oh, and hey: Eat less meat. That’ll let farms grow food for people instead of cows.


Problem

Extreme weather

Droughts and floods powered by climate change are hammering the most productive food-growing regions.

Solution

Insurance and genetics

In India, if rainfall drops below a level that will cause crops to fail, some farmers receive rolling insurance payouts (instead of going out of business waiting till season’s end). Smart seeds can also help; the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project has developed new strains to boost yield.


Problem

Data drought

Farmers need access to weather information.

Solution

Access

Monsanto paid $ 930 million for the data-driven ag company Climate Corporation because the future isn’t just seeds and chemicals. It’s also timely updates on weather, water, and pests. Radios and cell phones can deliver the latest forecasts—news that might help farmers decide, say, whether to plant a drought-adapted crop.

This article appears in our special November issue, guest-edited by President Barack Obama. Subscribe now.

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