Selling vegetables at a local market in Taita, Kenya.
Photo: ©FAO/Fredrik Lerneryd

Local food crops can feed less than a third of global population

In discussions about sustainability of food production and consumption, it is often suggested that the proportion of locally produced products should increase. However, it is largely unknown how high this share can be whilst still meeting current demands for food.

Distances between production and consumption show that local food crops can feed less than a third of the world’s population, researchers from the University of Göttingen, Germany, stated in May 2020.

They state that international trade flows remain essential to meet the demand for food worldwide. Nevertheless, higher yields and reduced food loss would reduce the distance between production and consumption of food, especially in Africa and Asia.

Trade or transport restrictions, for example as a result of an epidemic, could be risky, lead to hunger or force the population in the affected areas to change their diets, the researchers warn.

Together with an international research team led by the University of Aalto (Finland) they analysed data on food production and consumption. Using an optimisation model, the researchers minimised the distance or transport time between production and consumption worldwide.

The researchers conclude that, depending on the crop, 11 to 28 per cent of the world's population could meet their demand with food produced within a radius of 100 kilometres. However, for 26 to 64 per cent of the world's population, the distance to the place of food production is over 1,000 kilometres.

Half the world's population could meet their needs for cereals that grow in a temperate climate - such as wheat, barley or oats - within a distance of less than 900 kilometres. However, for a quarter of the world's population the minimum distance is more than 5,200 kilometres. In contrast, the supply of maize could be more local and the global average distance between production and consumption is 1,300 kilometres.

(University of Göttingen/ile)

Read more at University of Göttingen website 

Original publication: Pekka Kinnunen et al. Local food crop production can fulfil demand for less than one-third of the population. Nature Food (2020). Open access (read-only)