World needs to produce 3 times more fruits, vegetables than current levels

World is producing more cereals than fruits, vegetables than needed to meet populatons' nutrition needs; this has consequnces for land and ecosystem

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 26 October 2018

If the world continues to produce food crops in a business-as-usual scenario, then nutritional requirements of each individual are unlikely to be met.

The world currently overproduces grains, fats and sugars, and not enough fruits, vegetables and protein to meet the nutritional needs of the current population, finds a recent global study conducted by the University of Guelph.

At present, the available calories are likely to be about 2,200 kilocalories per person per day, which is sufficient for the world’s current population. However, when global production is divided into different food groups, a different picture emerges.

According to the study published in PLOS ONE, the world now produce 12 servings of grains per person instead of the recommended eight; five servings of fruits and vegetables instead of 15; three servings of oil and fat instead of one; three servings of protein instead of five; and four servings of sugar instead of none. "What we are producing at a global level is not what we should be producing according to nutritionists," said Fraser, the co-author of the study.


How the study was done

This study calculated the number of servings per person on the planet for each food group based on Harvard University’s “Healthy Eating Plate” guide, which recommends that half of our diet should consist of fruits and vegetables; 25 per cent, whole grains; and 25 per cent, protein, fat and dairy.

Since carbohydrates are relatively easy to produce and can feed many people, developing countries focus on growing grains, said Krishna KC, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics.

He said developed countries have subsidised grain and corn production for decades in order to become self-sufficient and to establish global leadership in their production. These countries have also spent far more money on research and innovation for these crops than for fruits and vegetable.

The craving for food rich in fat, sugar and salt which tastes good is also another factor due to which grain production was prioritised over fruits and vegetables.

Fruits, vegetables production ensure ecological benefits

Prioritising fruits and vegetables over grains is good for nutrition. Besides, it will help to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. A shift in a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will not just be nutritious, but will also need less land required to feed the growing population, says the study. Shifting production to match nutritional dietary guidelines would require 50 million fewer hectares of arable land, because fruits and vegetables take less land to grow than grain, sugar and fat.

In a business as usual scenario in the global agricultural production system, feeding 9.8 billion people will require 12 million more hectares of arable land and at least one billion more hectares of pasture land, said Fraser. 

Reduction in agricultural land use with focus on fruits and vegetables could contribute to biodiversity conservation and will also enhance ecosystem services, thus helping meet the Sustainable Development Goals says the study.

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