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Small changes adding up to big gains

Investment growth in agriculture

14 October 2019

Taking the concept of marginal gains, whereby many small changes add up to overall significant improvements, researchers at the University of Edinburgh, UK are applying this to the food system.

‘A lot of work done to date calls for one or two very large changes, but we believe that this is not practical. It is much more likely that we can achieve more by doing lots of small changes,’ says Peter Alexander, agricultural economist at the University of Edinburgh.

They believe that their improvements could lead to a reduction in agricultural land use by between 21% and 37%.

Agriculture uses 38% of all land, but total food demand is projected to rise by 52%- 116% by 2100 compared with levels in 2005.

The researchers propose 29 incremental improvements which are split across three categories; production efficiency, reducing losses and shifting diets. For example, a shift to vegetarian diets would cut net land requirements by 2%. Reducing over consumption could deliver a 5% cut, while continuing the trend of replacing beef with chicken could equate to a 3% net reduction in land use.

Researchers found that total global land area required for food was reduced by 947 million hectares to 3629 million hectares, or 27.9% of the global land surface, when all the marginal changes were applied at their default rates.

For further details visit this month’s issue of Chemistry and Industry.

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