Farming accounts for about forty percent of land use worldwide and has a big impact on the climate. How can we sustainably feed a growing world population?


Paul West of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of the Environment says most of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions come from specific countries and crops.

West: “And so in order to reduce agriculture’s impact on the planet, we really need to have a focus on these crops and countries.”

West says cattle and rice paddies in the U.S., China, and India are major sources of methane. In those same countries, too much fertilizer is often used to grow corn and wheat — emitting nitrous oxide. In Brazil and Indonesia, carbon dioxide is released when forests are cut and burned to clear land for farms.

West: “The amount of forest clearing for agriculture in the tropics alone is as much or more in terms of emissions than all the planes, trains, and automobiles, and boats every year.”

To feed a hungry world, West says we can use fertilizer more efficiently, increase food supplies by cutting waste, and grow more crops for humans instead of livestock.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Rice terraces near village in highlands of southeastern China. Copyright protected.

More Resources
Study: How existing cropland could feed billions more
Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment
Climate Change and Agriculture in the U.S.: Effects and Adaptation
Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply

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Bud Ward

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...