Research Press Release

Ecology: Food and forests for the future

Nature Communications

April 20, 2016

It may be possible to feed a future global population without having to convert any more of the world’s forests to cropland, suggests a model published in Nature Communications. Dietary choices such as vegetarianism and veganism provide the largest number of options for enabling forests to remain intact.

The rapidly expanding global human population creates an increasing demand for food, which may be met by increasing the efficiency of agriculture, or expanding the total area of land devoted to crop growth. However, this land expansion may conflict with conservation goals if biodiverse forest habitats are converted to agriculture.

Karl-Heinz Erb and colleagues explore the feasibility of feeding the world’s population in 2050 if none of the current forested areas of the globe were to be converted to agriculture. By modelling the supply and demand of agricultural biomass under 500 different future scenarios that vary according to changes in crop yields, area use, and human dietary choices, they find that the majority of scenarios are feasible without encroachment onto forested land.

If the world’s population became entirely vegan, 100% of these scenarios are achievable, while 94% are possible under vegetarianism, and only around two-thirds are possible if the average diet remains the same as today; only 15% are possible if a rich, meat-based western-style diet is adopted. These results indicate that a large range of options are available for feeding the world sustainably in the future without the need to clear forested land for conversion to agriculture, but that these options are strongly dependent on dietary choices.


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