Research Press Release

Optimization of crop distributions to feed millions and save water

Nature Geoscience

November 7, 2017

An additional 825 million people around the world could be fed, while also saving water resources, if the agricultural landscape is configured to optimize the distribution of crops, concludes a study published online this week in Nature Geoscience. Although the application of such an optimization process may be limited to some extent by cultural barriers and dietary preferences, it has the advantage of not requiring large investment in technology or implying a loss of biodiversity, making it a viable strategy for sustainable intensification of agriculture.

With growth in global population, demand for richer diets and use of biofuel expected for the coming decades, crop production will need to increase. Yet, given finite resources, sustainable intensification will require enhanced production on existing farmland, whilst seeking to preserve resources such as water, fertilizer and energy.

Kyle Davis and colleagues used a crop water model together with maps of 14 major food crop yields to investigate the potential of increasing food production through a global spatial redistribution of crops on cultivated land. The authors identify crop configurations that produce 10% more calories and 19% more protein, and suggest that crop redistribution can help nations reduce their dependence on food imports. These re-configurations of crops would also reduce the consumptive use of rainwater by 14% and irrigation water by 12%.


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