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Farmland Aplenty for Growing World Population

Worried about feeding the world's growing population, especially as it increases meat consumption and farmland is impacted by climate change? No fear - improved crop technology and slowing world growth will allow farms to be converted to wildlands.
December 20, 2012, 10am PST | Irvin Dawid
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So says a new report (PDF) from the Program for the Human Environment at the Rockefeller University in New York. It goes by the title, "Peak Farmland and the Prospect for Land Sparing". Alister Doyle, Reuter's Environment Correspondent, explains that "the authors said that the idea of "Peak Farmland" was borrowed from the phrase "Peak Oil", the possibility that world use of petroleum is at its maximum." [See contributor's note below.]

The report projects that cropland needed to feed the world's growing population will decrease by 10% by 2060 due to "moderation of population and tastes and ingenuity of farmers", wrote co-author and Director for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, Jesse Ausubel "in a speech about the study he led in the journal Population and Development Review."

"More crops for use as biofuels and increased meat consumption in emerging economies such as China and India, demanding more cropland to feed livestock, would not offset a fall from the peak driven by improved yields, it calculated."

The result, predict the authors, is that "almost 150 million hectares (370 million acres) could be restored to natural conditions such as forest by 2060."

However, the Rockefeller University report conflicts with a recent U.N. report.

"A June 2012 report by the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), however, said that an extra net 70 million hectares of land worldwide would have to be cultivated in 2050, compared with now: "Land and water resources are now much more stressed than in the past and are becoming scarcer," it said, referring to factors such as soil degradation and salinisation."

Doyle notes that "changing diet was also a big uncertainty as the world population headed toward about 10 billion and simultaneously grappled with problems of obesity and malnourishment."

[Contributor's note: The term, 'peak farmland' may appear confusing as the concept of 'peak oil' refers to demand outstripping supply, i.e. shrinking oil reserves will result in economic disruption as oil prices increase dramatically, e.g. $300/barrel.  The term was coined prior to advent of oil production from unconventional sources, e.g. shale oil and oil sands. Peak Food was described in that light (escalating demand, shrinking supply) in Planetizen, 2008: "From 'Peak Oil' to 'Peak Food'"]

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Published on Monday, December 17, 2012 in Reuters - U.S.
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