Is Protein a Key to Feeding Ten Billion?
Kevin O'Neil

Kevin O'Neil Associate Director, The Rockefeller Foundation

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June 28, 2017

Is Protein a Key to Feeding Ten Billion?

Kevin O'Neil

Kevin O'Neil Associate Director, The Rockefeller Foundation

Tags for this post
June 28, 2017

Sheep HerdBy 2050, humanity will have over two billion more people to feed than we do now.

That’s a daunting prospect when we already struggle to feed ourselves without damaging the planet. Agriculture already accounts for about one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, 70 percent of freshwater use, and half of vegetated land.

Simply putting more energy, water, and land into production will only push up the financial and environmental costs of food, making survival even harder for the world’s poorest people. To meet this challenge, we’ll need to find ways to get more out of the resources we already use.


KEY FIGURES

  • One-third of food that is produced globally is never eaten. [Tweet This]
  • Agriculture accounts for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of freshwater use, and half of vegetated land. [Tweet This]
  • One third of all calories and half of all vegetable protein grown on farms worldwide feeds animals, not people. [Tweet This]

One way is to reduce food waste and loss, tapping the one-third of food that is produced but not eaten—a task taken up by the Foundation’s YieldWise initiative.

Another way to get more food out of the resources we put in is to change the way we produce and consume protein. Raising animals to produce meat and other products is inherently wasteful: As little as 1 percent of the calories and 4 percent of the protein from grains fed to livestock ends up on plates in the form of meat. As a result, one third of all calories and half of all vegetable protein grown on farms worldwide feeds animals, not people.

That’s a big problem, and one that is growing rapidly.

Demand for meat, eggs, and dairy is expected to rise by over 75 percent by 2050.  Today, meat accounts for three quarters of land used for agriculture and two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture—more than the entire global transportation sector.

We can bridge this gap between growing demand and what the earth can sustainably supply—while still eating well. Here are some ways to think about sustainably meeting our protein needs:

Acting on these ideas will be a big challenge—but they’re pointing us toward a future of diverse, delicious diets and exciting innovations in our food system. Along with reducing food waste and other measures, a better approach to protein will be a key part of how we feed nearly ten billion people without overwhelming our planet’s capacity to provide.

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