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To protect the world’s wildlife we must improve crop yields – especially across Africa

Ellis, E. C., Beusen, A. H., & Goldewijk, K. K. (2020). Anthropogenic Biomes: 10,000 BCE to 2015 CE. Land, 9(5), 129.Williams, D. R., Clark, M., B

  • Ellis, E. C., Beusen, A. H., & Goldewijk, K. K. (2020). Anthropogenic Biomes: 10,000 BCE to 2015 CE. Land, 9(5), 129.

  • Williams, D. R., Clark, M., Buchanan, G. M., Ficetola, G. F., Rondinini, C., & Tilman, D. (2021). Proactive conservation to prevent habitat losses to agricultural expansion. Nature Sustainability, 4(4), 314-322.

  • This comes from the UN’s medium fertility scenario.

    United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects: The 2019 Revision, DVD Edition. Available at: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Download/Standard/Population/.{/ref} Africa is expected to have the largest growth, adding over 1.1 billion in the next 30 years. We would expect (and hope) that incomes across the world would increase – especially for those near the bottom.

    This means we’ll not only have more mouths to feed, we’ll also have more resource-intensive diets. As we get richer we tend to eat more diverse foods, particularly meat and dairy. These foods require more land, feed, water and other inputs compared to staples such as cereals. 

    On the production side, the researchers’ business-as-usual scenario assumes that crop yields will continue to increase at similar rates to the past. Some regions, such as Asia and Latin America have seen impressive gains in crop yields over the past 50 years. Unfortunately Sub-Saharan Africa has lagged behind: most of the continent’s increases in agricultural production have come from using more land rather than increases in yields.

    Their results project that by 2050 the world would need 26% more cropland.{ref}This is an area of 3.4 million square kilometers (km2). A 26% increase from 2010.

  • This assumes that most countries attempt to meet their food demands through domestic production rather than relying on international trade.

  • 6% would see no change. The remaining 6% would see an increase. Most of the species projected to see an increase were birds that lived on agricultural lands. They would obviously benefit from expansions in farmland across the world.

  • There are limits to the yields that we can achieve with current agricultural techniques and technologies. These limits are often termed ‘attainable yields’ or ‘potential yields’, and vary by location. Here researchers assume that yields can increase to 80% of their location-specific potential yields.

  • The EAT-Lancet diet was modeled by a group of researchers in nutrition, health, sustainability and policy to balance and improve both human and environmental health.

    Willett, W., Rockström, J., Loken, B., Springmann, M., Lang, T., Vermeulen, S., … & Murray, C. J. (2019). Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet, 393(10170), 447-492.

  • This caloric intake will be different for everyone, and is calculated based on population demographics and activity rates.

  • This shift in agricultural production is gradual, such that an additional 10% of total food demand is imported by 2030 and by 20% in 2050. The researchers note that would be in conflict with food security concerns in countries where agriculture is a large source of income. It was nonetheless included to understand the impact of land-use planning across international borders on global biodiversity.

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