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Post Feeding the World of the Future: *National Geographic*
Created by John Eipper on 04/24/14 2:51 PM

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Feeding the World of the Future: *National Geographic* (Richard Hancock, USA, 04/24/14 2:51 pm)

I have read with interest the recent WAIS commentaries on predictions. The May 2014 National Geographic features one such article: "A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World," by Jonathan Foley. He states that the world population will grow 35% (2 1/2 billion people) to a total of 9 1/2 billion by 2050. Moreover, the rise in prosperity in some nations will allow people to consume more products that are above a subsistence level, requiring a 100% increase in crop production.

The five steps are as follows:

1. Freeze agriculture's footprint on the world.

A. Agriculture has 38.6% of the planet's ice-free land in pasture and crop land.
B. Undeveloped land (forests, high mountains, tundra, deserts) constitutes 46.5% of the planet.
C. Other 14.9%. This includes eroded lands, rural housing and businesses, urban areas, planted forests, logging, mines, quarries, railways and reservoirs.

2. Grow more on farms that now exist.

3. Use resources more efficiently.

Both 2 and 3 involve larger farms, using high technology more efficiently--genetically improved seeds, improved machinery, more intelligent application of pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation water.

4. Shift diets.

Today only 55% of agriculture feeds people directly; 36% is fed to livestock and 9% is devoted to biofuels and industrial products. "For every 100 calories of grain that we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef." Moreover, "We must curtail the use of food crops for biofuels."

5. Reduce waste.

Twenty-five percent of calories produced in agriculture is wasted. In rich countries, this waste takes place in the homes, in restaurants and supermarkets. In poor countries, 50% of food is lost because of unreliable storage and transportation. Most poor countries lack refrigeration.

I was raised on a ranch, majored in Animal Husbandry at New Mexico A&M (now New Mexico State U), and farmed for several years in New Mexico's irrigated South Rio Grande valley. At Stanford, earning a PhD, in addition to studying languages, history, and geography, I elected to take courses in the Food Research Institute. The FRI was started by Herbert Hoover after his experience in helping to feed Europe after WWI. Hoover felt the lack of solid information on the world's foods during that time so he instigated the formation of the FRI (like the Department of Hispanic American Studies, it too was closed by Stanford).

I took several classes at the FRI, including world economics by Dr. Brandt, later the chairman of President Eisenhower's economic advisory committee. (Dr. Brandt was a German who moved to Stanford to escape the Hitler regime.) I studied the world's nutritional problems, including one course dedicated to Latin America. I have lived for years in Mexico and Central America and have visited all of the Latin American countries repeatedly (I have not visited Cuba or Haiti). I learned that the world's premiere farming area is the American Midwest, closely followed by the pampas of Argentina and Uruguay. I also learned from Dr. Brandt that Russia is an agricultural have-not nation because most of its land area is north of latitude 50º. The US northwestern border follows latitude 49. This may be one reason for Russia's interest in acquiring Ukraine.

I have learned that diets in all countries become more varied and costly as each nation's prosperity increases. These populations will eat more meat, milk, eggs, chicken, pork, and beef as their incomes allow. Most of these low-income countries are supplied food by inefficient subsistence farms.

I have also learned that the tropical regions are not the new frontier in agriculture. In the United States we cleared the eastern forests to allow crop production, which was and continues to be successful. In contrast, tropical forests, when cleared, allow only one or two years of crop production before being fallowed for as many as 25 years. In some cases clearing the timber leaves the land permanently barren for either crops or timber. The Ford Motor Company's attempt to grow rubber on plantations along the Amazon River failed because the plantation-grown trees were subject to sicknesses that the trees isolated in the jungle did not suffer. Today, there is concern that Brazil is allowing too much destructive clearing of the Amazon forests. Moreover, it is probable the the ancient Mayans suffered the decline of their empires because of excessive clearing of jungles for unsustainable farming purposes.

How will all this affect us? We should start by recognizing that the US is blessed by having magnificent agricultural resources. In 1836, Alexis de Toqueville wrote, "The conquests of the American were gained by the ploughshare; those of Russia were gained by the sword." That statement may be oversimplified, but it is a gem of wisdom. During the next 36 years before 2050, the US agricultural resources will be in enormous demand.

It may mean that we will have to eat grass-fat beef. I have done that and it is not an insurmountable difficulty. Prime beef will always be available for those who have money to buy it. We are going to have to make sure that overemphasis on fear of global warming does not cripple our agricultural production. It may mean that fanatic environmentalists will have to lower their concern for certain species of animals to ensure the survival of starving people. It will also mean that we will have to accept more generous allotments of agricultural labor from foreign countries.

One prediction that I can make with great certainty: at the age of 88, I will not be around to witness the condition of the world in 2050, but I hope that by following the Golden Mean in all of our policies, we may be able to feed all the world's people in that year.

JE comments: A very thoughtful (and informed) analysis from Richard Hancock. Thanks to the generosity of my dear Auntie Ann (my mother's sister), WAIS HQ now receives National Geographic. This means I've come full circle: it was my parents' NG subscription many years ago that first got me hooked on exotic countries and peoples.  I remember "reading" the pictures before I could even decipher the written word.

As coincidence would have it, I read Foley's article just last night.  The reality that the world will have to double its food production by 2050, without increasing the amount of agricultural land, is most sobering.  Is it time to eat more simply (point 4)?  The NG's photos of industrialized chicken, egg, and pork production are making me seriously contemplate embracing vegetarianism.  And beef, as Richard points out, is the most wasteful food of all.

Still, it's almost time for dinner...


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  • Feeding the World of the Future (Tor Guimaraes, USA 04/25/14 4:35 PM)
    My gratitude goes to Richard Hancock (24 April) for bringing up the interesting the May 2014 National Geographic article: "A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World," by Jonathan Foley. The author estimated the world population growing 35% (2 1/2 billion people) to a total of 9 1/2 billion by 2050. The five steps are rational but to me represent a losing proposition in the long run. Poverty, famine and illness worldwide are nothing but symptoms of greater problems: lack of true democracy, rule of law, free markets, and education.

    If people are hungry, you have to feed them; but to what end? Once fed, their next thought seems to be reproduction rather than essential education to improve their lot, further adding to the human population. Therefore, to the great saviors of mankind nobly fighting famine and disease worldwide, I beg that they consider just for a second a new idea: Spend more on providing real democracy, rule of law, education, and free markets to all nations, so people can take care of themselves.


    Confessing that to me it is rather scary to think that all these people will automatically be wanting to drive cars, have refrigerators, TVs, etc. What will this trend do the already poisonous Earth's environment in terms of more air and water pollution?


    JE comments: I vote to add birth control to this list--although education and economic growth work automatically to reduce average family sizes.


    (Great to hear from you, Tor.  It's been a few weeks.)

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  • Feeding (and Watering) the World of the Future; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 04/25/14 4:50 PM)
    Ric Mauricio sends these thoughts on Richard Hancock's post of 24 April:

    A few months ago, I was checking out some investment ideas and found that one of the biggest issues in many developing nations and continents is water. We're not talking about seawater, which comprises most of the earth, but water to drink and water to irrigate and grow food. So it makes sense to use as many conservation tools as possible. And to use what we have more efficiently.



    Thus, I came across pulses. What are "pulses"? Pulses are staple foods such as lentils, beans and chickpeas. Pulses have much to recommend them. In a world where water is a constraint, it takes much less water to produce a pound of pulses than other foods.



    Gallons of Water


    Take a look at how many gallons of water we use to produce the following foods: 1,857 gallons/lb of beef; 756 gallons/lb of pork; 469 gallons/lb of chicken; 368 gallons/lb of peanuts; 216 gallons/lb of soybeans; and 43 gallons/lb of pulses.



    So Many Plusses for Pulses


    Pulses, as you see, use the least amount of water. They are also high in protein and fiber, nutrient-dense, low fat, gluten-free and non-GMO. Pulses also make their own fertilizer by fixing the nitrogen in the soil and require half the nonrenewable energy to produce, compared to crops like wheat. Growing pulses, therefore, also lowers carbon emissions. Food producers are starting to appreciate these things; they are now mixing pulses with wheat to make pasta.


    Solving the World's Hunger and Water Problem


    So, by planting pulses, we can make progress towards solving the global hunger and water problem. And the world government knows this. So why don't they do it? Ah, but do you realize what you will be doing? You will be affecting the meat, poultry, peanut and soy industries (although I really doubt people would do a whole-hog move to pulses; I admit I do like hamburgers, chicken, turkey, bacon, and peanuts). You would also be impacting the transportation industry, the oil industry (transporting the tiny lentil is much more efficient than transporting beef), and various other infrastructure industries. So the bottom line, it's the money. But it certainly is doable.


    JE comments: And as many areas of the world grow more prosperous, "pulses" are seen as poor people's food. So the trend is going in the other direction.  Will education entice more people to embrace Ric Mauricio's recommendation?


    A question for our experts on Russian culture:  don't Russians hate lentils, which remind them of the hunger years during both World Wars?  I recall reading this somewhere.  Tomorrow I'm planning to visit some Russian friends in Ann Arbor.  I'll be sure to ask.

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