How much of the world’s food is grown for people?

Today I’ve been working on a paper for WWF and the Green Economy Coalition, and I wanted to include the figures on how much of the world’s food is eaten directly by people, and how much goes elsewhere. I was reminded of a map that I saw in the National Geographic, and I have dug it out to show you.

This is a map of the world’s agricultural regions, coloured according to how much of the calories produced go to people and how much goes to feeding animals or producing biofuels.

Looking at the map, we can see the amount of animal feed grown in Europe or in the American heartlands. (40% of American corn goes to biofuels, 36% to animals, and most of the remainder is consumed as corn syrup.) We can see the soy plantations in Brazil. Africa, by contrast, grows much more of what it eats. Diets are changing in India, but it still eats less meat per head than anywhere else in the world and its crops reflect that.

Taken together, 55% of the world’s food is eaten directly by people. 36% goes to animals, and 9% to biofuels.

If we could zip into the future and look at a map like this for 2050 or 2100, I would hope to see a lot more green. A growing population will need more efficient agriculture, and feeding animals is far from efficient. With beef, farmers get 3 calories’ worth of meat back for every 100 calories of grain fed to cattle. We would hopefully have moved past ‘1st generation’ biofuels by then too, and stopped burning food for fuel.

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