In 2005, crop yields for the wealthiest nations were more than 300 percent higher than yields for the poorest nations.
"Strategically intensifying crop production in developing and least-developed nations would reduce the overall environmental harm caused by food production, as well as provide a more equitable food supply across the globe," said Hill.
If poorer nations continue current practices, they will clear a land area larger than the United States (two and a half billion acres) by 2050. But if richer nations help poorer nations to improve yields, that number could be reduced to half a billion acres.
"Our analyses show that we can save most of the Earth's remaining ecosystems," said Tilman, "by helping the poorer nations of the world feed themselves."
Scientists Christian Balzer of the University of California Santa Barbara and Belinda Befort of UMN are also co-authors of the paper.