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Solutions for a cultivated planet

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Abstract

Increasing population and consumption are placing unprecedented demands on agriculture and natural resources. Today, approximately a billion people are chronically malnourished while our agricultural systems are concurrently degrading land, water, biodiversity and climate on a global scale. To meet the world’s future food security and sustainability needs, food production must grow substantially while, at the same time, agriculture’s environmental footprint must shrink dramatically. Here we analyse solutions to this dilemma, showing that tremendous progress could be made by halting agricultural expansion, closing ‘yield gaps’ on underperforming lands, increasing cropping efficiency, shifting diets and reducing waste. Together, these strategies could double food production while greatly reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture.

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Figure 1: Allocation of cropland area to different uses in 2000.
Figure 2: Meeting goals for food security and environmental sustainability by 2050.
Figure 3: Closing global yield gaps.
Figure 4: Closing the diet gap.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful for the support of NASA and the National Science Foundation. We also acknowledge the support of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, for convening a workshop on meeting global agricultural demands while staying within the ‘planetary limits’. We thank C. Godfray and C. Prentice for comments on the manuscript. We also thank M. Hoff and S. Karnas for help with the manuscript and figures.

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Contributions

J.A.F., N.R., K.A.B., E.S.C., J.S.G., M.J., N.D.M., C.O’C., D.K.R. and P.C.W. conducted most of the data production, analysis and shared writing responsibilities. C.B., C.M., S.S. and D.T. contributed data and shared in the scoping and writing responsibilities. E.M.B., S.R.C., J.H., S.P., J.R., J.S. and D.P.M.Z. shared in the scoping and writing responsibilities.

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Correspondence to Jonathan A. Foley.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Foley, J., Ramankutty, N., Brauman, K. et al. Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature 478, 337–342 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10452

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