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Global crop redistribution could feed 825 million more people

While global food demand is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years, drought and water shortages will have a major impact on agricultural output.

Population growth, changes in diets, and increased demand for biofuels are just a few of the reasons agricultural demand is growing, all while global aquifers are quickly being depleted.

Now, a new study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Earth Institute offers a new solution to meet agricultural demand amid future water shortages.

The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that redrawing crop distribution maps worldwide could drastically increase output.

For the study, the researchers looked at crop water-use models, and yield maps for 14 major food crops that make up 72 percent of all crops farmed worldwide.

The crops used were groundnut, maize, millet, oil palm, rapeseed, rice, roots, sorghum, soybean, sugarbeet, sugarcane, sunflowers, tubers, and wheat.

The study especially focused on crop distributions that would put less stress on water consumption.

The new maps would produce enough food for an additional 825 million people and reduce water consumption considerably, at least 20 percent in some countries.

The key, according to the study, is increasing the production of certain nutrient-rich crops like soybeans and tubers, and reducing yields in crops like rice, sugar, and wheat that need more water but have less caloric value.

Crop distribution would vary from country to country, but the results show that it is possible to meet growing demand and reduce water usage worldwide.

Some of the exciting aspects of this option are that unlike other alternatives, redistributing crops would not require installing expensive new technology. The new maps also wouldn’t risk any loss in crop diversity.

However, this is just the first step, according to the researchers. There are still many factors to consider before any of these new maps can be implemented.

“If we think about the economic, social, and environmental aspects of food security in a particular country and work closely with local decision-makers, we can create solutions tailored to the needs and goals of that country’s people,” said Kyle Davis, the study’s lead author.

The study results can serve as a tool in helping further research efforts to meet the growing demand for sustainable agriculture.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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