Global food challenges
As per the United Nations Food Program1, hunger kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. 1 out of every 8 people suffer from chronic undernourishment and 3.1 mn children die every year (i.e. 353 every hour) due to hunger and malnutrition. As land and water challenges continue to grow, our ability to sustain the food requirements of an ever increasing population is in serious question.
33% of global land resources have already been degraded. With most easily cultivable land already having been put to use, the scope for further expansion of cultivate land is limited. With global yield increases having started to stagnate, the shortage of fertile land leads to serious concerns about our ability to sustain the food requirements of an ever increasing population.
Diet's land foodprint
Livestock's usage of land resources
As per the United Nations4
- 3.4 billion hectares of land are used for grazing of livestock. This accounts for 26% of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet.
- A further 0.5 billion hectares of land is used for the production of animal feedstock. This accounts for 33% of the total global cropland.
- In all, the livestock sector uses 80% of global agricultural land
Livestock's contribution to land degradation
Apart from occupying most of our global land resources, the livestock industry also has the following adverse implications for our planet's surface4:
- Deforestation: 70% of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder.
- Land degradation: About 20 percent of the world's pastures and rangelands, with 73 percent of rangelands in dry areas, have been degraded to some extent, mostly through overgrazing
- Loss of biodiversity: Livestock contribute directly or indirectly to all the drivers of biodiversity loss, from local to global levels through livestock related land use changes, climate change impact, over exploitation, pollution of land & water resources and the transfer of alien species.
Diet and our world hunger foodprint
With 3 farm animal alive for every human on this planet, the bulk of our grain and cereal resources are being fed to animals rather than humans. 741 mn tonnes of grain are fed to farm animals every year – accounting for 35% of global grain production. In addition to grain, 105 mn tons of brans, 14 mn tons of pulses, 27 mn tons of oilcrops, 215 mn tons of oilcake, 142 mn tons of roots & tiubers and 3.9 mn tons of fishmeal are also fed to animals -- making a total of 1.25 bn tonnes of feed per annum4.
This is an extremely inefficient process – depending on the animal, it takes between 2-10x the amount of calories to make one calorie of animal meat.
Hunger, sustainability and diet
A global shift towards increased consumption of plant based foods and lower consumption of meat & dairy products, would have an effect of freeing up significant land and grain resources that can be used to feed the millions dying of hunger and malnutrition every year.
What if the world turned vegan?
The United Nations Environment Program estimates precisely this in their Enviroment & Food Crisis Report and concludes in 2050 ''taking the energy value of the meat produced into consideration, the loss of calories by feeding the cereals to animals instead of using the cereals directly as human food represents the annual calorie need for more than 3.5 billion people"
To understand this number better, a global shift to a vegan diet by 2050 would free up enough grains to:
- take care of all population growth from 2011 to 2050 (i.e. 2 bn people)
- feed every hungry person in the world today (i.e. 870 mn people)
- and still have enough grains for another 630 mn people
What if the world turned vegan today
Using the same calculation methodology as UNEP, a global shift to a vegan diet today would:
- save 760 mn tonnes of grain which could be fed to humans instead of farmed animals
- which is sufficient to feed an additional 1.87 bn people
- in other terms, we could find enough grain to feed every hungry person on the planet (i.e. 870 mn people) and still have food left over for an additional 1 bn people.
- UN World Food Program, Hunger Stats
- UN FAO, The state of the worlds land and water challenges
- UN Environment Program, Environmental Food Crisis
- UN FAO, Livestocks Long Shadow