How can we sustainably feed 10 billion people in 2050?


With improved methods of agricultural production, the world’s population has increased significantly over the past 50 years. And this trend is not about to stop! While it is theoretically possible to feed 10 billion people sustainably in 2050, this challenge can only be met by combining several approaches to reduce the environmental impact of our food systems. The details with Professor Wim de Vries, University of Wageningen, Netherlands.

A radical transformation of our food systems is necessary

Current diets are pushing Earth beyond its limits and causing diseases: they are a threat both to people and to the planet. The future is grim, especially if nothing changes. Given the expected changes in population and eating habits, global food demand is expected to double by 2050, affecting the necessary inputs of land, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) (and their losses), as well as unintentional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Options to reduce the environmental impacts of the global food system include a transition to more plant-rich diets. Besides the way in which everyone eats, experts now promote a radical change in the means of production (no longer focusing on a small number of crops, limiting the expansion of agricultural land that encroaches on forests, prevention of overfishing, etc.). It is also imperative to reduce food waste and losses during the production process and to promote increased recycling of human, animal and plant waste, as well as improvements in agricultural technologies and land management.

This lecture outlines the trends and challenges and shows that a combination of all these measures will be absolutely necessary to mitigate the expected increase in environmental pressures and stay within the limits of the planet’s available resources.

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About Wim de Vries

Professor Ir. Wim de Vries is a researcher at the University of Wageningen and active in the field of soil chemistry, in particular soil acidification, the nutrient cycle, greenhouse gas emissions and heavy metal pollution. He is a professor in the Environmental Systems Analysis Group at Wageningen University, where he holds the chair of Integrated Nutrient Impact Modelling.

His research is currently focused on the impacts of the elevated use of nutrients (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) in agriculture, on soil and water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, productivity and plant species diversity of terrestrial ecosystems. This includes the assessment of limits on inputs to agriculture and critical loads to forests and nature areas. .