Just one extra beer a week for Chinese men would require 231,235 hectares of annual barley production in the UK - the equivalent of a fifth of its current output, claims the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD).
The food industry information provider made the calculations to demonstrate what impact small changes can have on global food production, when applied collectively in a largely populated country like China.
IGD’s estimate follows the recent publication of ‘Global Food and Farming Futures’, a government-commissioned report by the Government Office for Science, which explores the increasing pressures on the global food system between now and 2050.
The report highlights the decisions it thinks that policy makers need to take today, and in the future, to ensure that a global population rising to nine billion or more can be fed sufficiently and sustainably.
The IGD arrived at its estimate by working out the average figures, such as the amount of barley malt required for a typical Chinese beer, which is 3.75kg and running a series of calculations.
The Institute used 2008 data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, to calculate the number of adult males in China and used this number to find out the amount that would be drunk annually if each man consumed one extra beer per week.
The total volume was then worked out: 7.5bn litres of extra beer, which the IGD estimated would need about 1,341,161 tonnes of barley.
“So, growing that amount of barley at UK standards of output would require 231,235 hectares,” the IGD calculated after dividing the tonnes of barley by the amount produced per hectare in the UK by farmers in 2009, which is 5.8 tonnes, (according to figures from the Food and Agricultural Organisation).
The Institute pointed out that another factor to take into account would be the energy required to make the packaging (glass, bottle caps, labels, etc), boiling the water, refrigerating the beer, distributing it, dealing with the extra waste, “and everything else around producing and selling a product,” said the IGD.
Yields could double
In many places, under the right conditions, yields could double, the ‘Global Food and Farming Futures’ report said in terms of wheat production.
Major investment in infrastructure, market development, and technology would be required over the long term in many of these countries to generate higher returns and push actual yields closer to the attainable level, said the report.
This is without counting the potential yield gains that could come from further improvement in varieties it said.
According to the Government Office for Science, among the major wheat producers, only the EU countries (the UK, Denmark, France, Germany) have actual yields close to, or even higher than those potentially attainable.
In all other major producers with predominantly rain-fed wheat production, the gaps between actual and attainable yields are significant.
“This illustrates the large room for growth in productivity that might be achieved if socio-economic, institutional and political conditions were more favourable to the uptake of new technologies and practices,” the report said.