Cover image for Feeding the world : a challenge for the twenty-first century
Feeding the world : a challenge for the twenty-first century
Smil, Vaclav.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxviii, 360 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
S494.5.P75 S55 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This book addresses the question of how we can best feed the ten billion or so people who will likely inhabit the Earth by the middle of the twenty-first century. He asks whether human ingenuity can produce enough food to support healthy and vigorous lives for all these people without irreparably damaging the integrity of the biosphere.

What makes this book different from other books on the world food situation is its consideration of the complete food cycle, from agriculture to post-harvest losses and processing to eating and discarding. Taking a scientific approach, Smil espouses neither the catastrophic view that widespread starvation is imminent nor the cornucopian view that welcomes large population increases as the source of endless human inventiveness. He shows how we can make more effective use of current resources and suggests that if we increase farming efficiency, reduce waste, and transform our diets, future needs may not be as great as we anticipate.

Smil's message is that the prospects may not be as bright as we would like, but the outlook is hardly disheartening. Although inaction, late action, or misplaced emphasis may bring future troubles, we have the tools to steer a more efficient course. There are no insurmountable biophysical reasons we cannot feed humanity in the decades to come while easing the burden that modern agriculture puts on the biosphere.

Author Notes

Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor of Geography at the University of Manitoba, Canada.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Smil (geography, Univ. of Manitoba) tries to answer the question, "Can we feed the ten million people that are likely to inhabit the world in the middle of the 21st century"? With this population of that size the question becomes "Can we support healthy, vigorous lives without damaging the integrity of the biosphere?" Smil approaches the topic from somewhat of a "middle of the road" stance and says that the future may not be as bright as we might like, but the outlook is hardly disheartening. He warns that late action or misplaced emphasis may bring future disasters, but that we have the tools to take a more efficient course. He also suggests that there is no biophysical reason why we cannot feed humanity in the decades to come without hurting the biosphere. Chapters discuss reasons for concern, appraising the basics, environmental changes and agro-ecosystems, higher cropping efficiencies, nationalizing animal food production, consuming what could be harvested, how much food is needed, and searching for optimum diets. The final chapter asks, if China can do it, why can't the rest of the world? This well-written book should interest all concerned with food production, feeding the world, and our long-term future on this earth. For general readers, upper-division undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and professionals. ; Ohio State University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. ix
1 Reasons for Concernp. 1
Demographic Imperativesp. 6
Dietary Transitionsp. 8
End of an Era?p. 11
2 Appraising the Basicsp. 23
Photosynthesis and Crop Productivityp. 25
Land, Water, and Nutrientsp. 30
Agroecosystems and Biodiversityp. 52
3 Environmental Change and Agroecosystemsp. 65
Changing Soilsp. 67
Environmental Pollutionp. 80
What Could Climate Change Dop. 90
4 Toward Higher Cropping Efficienciesp. 105
More Efficient Fertilizationp. 108
Better Use of Waterp. 125
Precision Farmingp. 135
5 Rationalizing Animal Food Productionp. 141
Feeding Efficiencies and Resource Claimsp. 145
Opportunities in Milk and Meat Productionp. 163
Aquacultural Possibilitiesp. 171
6 Consuming the Harvestsp. 181
Harvests and Postharvest Lossesp. 182
How Much Food Do We Have?p. 188
How Much Food Do We Eat?p. 196
7 How Much Food Do We Need?p. 211
Human Energeticsp. 215
Protein Needsp. 227
Comparisons and Implicationsp. 235
8 Searching for Optimum Dietsp. 249
Nutritional Transitionsp. 250
Nutrition, Health, and Diseasep. 264
Optimized Dietsp. 276
9 If China Could Do It ...p. 291
China's Predicamentp. 292
Available Resources and Existing Inefficienciesp. 299
Realistic Solutionsp. 309
Referencesp. 317
Indexp. 353