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Land-grabbing could feed 100 million more people

Close up of healthy young maize plants (corn) growing in a field, summertime, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa Close up of healthy young maize plants (corn) growing in a field, summertime, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa Wolf Avni, Shutterstock
01 Aug
Food for an extra 100 million people could be grown on land that has been ‘grabbed’ in developing countries, according to a new study published in Environmental Research Letters

Maria Cristina Rulli from Politecnico di Milano and Paolo D’Odorico from the University of Virginia combined data on the spatial extent of acquired land and the dominant crop grown on the land for all ‘land grab’ deals greater than 200 hectares that have taken place around the world since 2000. They then calculated the potential maximum crop yield from each of the deals and the crop’s calorific value to determine the amount of people that the land could feed. They also compared the use of traditional farming techniques to industrialised agricultural methods to come up with the yield gap.

They found that if all of the acquired lands were farmed to their full capacity, rice production would increase by 308 per cent and maize production would increase by 280 per cent. Overall, about 300 million to 550 million people could be fed by crops grown on the acquired land, compared with 190–370 million people if major investments weren’t made.

‘At the moment there are still open questions that would help inform the debate over what happens to acquired land,’ the authors said, ‘such as: what happens to food produced; is it shipped abroad; were these lands already used for agriculture prior to the acquisition, and if so, for the cultivation of what crops and with what yields?’ 

This story was published in the August 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine

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