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creating a sustainable food future

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The world is on a path to need almost 70 percent more crops in 2050 than those it produced in 2006. To close that crop gap without large price increases or clearing more valuable forests and savannas, yields are going to have to grow 33 percent more in the next 44 years than they did in the last 44.

Using advances in molecular biology to breed better crops can sustainably secure more of the global food supply.

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How does the world feed more than 9 billion people in the year 2050 in a manner that not only advances economic development but also reduces agriculture’s impact on the environment? How will we know if we’re on the right path?

WRI recently reviewed a number of existing indicators on the environmental sustainability of agriculture and identified gaps. Our analysis uncovers a need for improvements in indicators as well as the data underlying them—in particular, what we call the “3Ps, 5 themes, and 7 criteria.”

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As the global wild fish catch peaked in the 1990s, aquaculture—or fish farming—has grown rapidly to meet world fish demand, more than doubling production between 2000 and 2012. New research shows that aquaculture production will need to more than double again between now and 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population.

The question is: Can aquaculture grow sustainably?

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Fish—including finfish and shellfish—are an important item in the human food basket, contributing 17 percent of the global animal-based protein supply in 2010. They are an especially valuable food source in developing countries, where more than 75 percent of the world’s fish consumption occurs.

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The world is projected to hold a whopping 9.6 billion people by 2050. Figuring out how to feed all these people—while also advancing rural development, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting valuable ecosystems—is one of the greatest challenges of our era.

So what’s causing the global food challenge, and how can the world solve it? We begin to answer these questions through a series of graphics below. For more information, check out the interim findings of Creating a Sustainable Food Future, a report produced by WRI, U.N. Environment Programme, U.N. Development Programme, and the World Bank.

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Innovative farmers are beginning to demonstrate how agroforestry and other relatively simple practices can significantly boost food production in Africa’s drylands. In fact, according to a new WRI working paper, improving land and water management on just 25 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s 300 million hectares of prime cropland would result in an additional 22 million tons of food. This strategy could go a long way towards sustainably feeding Africa—and the world.

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The world’s food production systems face enormous challenges. Millions of farmers in developing countries are struggling to feed their families as they contend with land degradation, land use pressures, and climate change.

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The United Nations’ new population growth projections show that the world is set to reach nearly 9.6 billion by 2050. This growth holds serious implications for global food security. Absent other effective measures to control dietary shifts and reduce food loss and waste, the world will need to produce about 70 percent more food annually by 2050 to meet global demands. That is a big task, and even harder to do without converting millions more hectares of forests into farmland, contributing to climate change.

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How can the world feed more than 9 billion people by 2050 in a manner that advances economic development and reduces pressure on the environment? Answering it requires a “great balancing act” of three needs—each of which must be met simultaneously.

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