Our global food system is under increasing strain. We need to produce and supply enough safe and nutritious food in a sustainable way to a population which is expected to rise to 9 billion by 2050. How are we meeting this challenge with new technology as well as new thinking?
The following notes were made on the 31st of October at the Royal Geographical Society. Further details about the lecture and others can be found at: http://www.21stcenturychallenges.org/challenges/food-matters/
In the next 2 decades we need to increase food production by 50% to meet global demand.
As more people move into the middle class their diets change to meet their aspirations and this includes eating more meat. For example in China the Increase in meat eating is as follows: In 1975 only 10kg of meat was consumed per person per week and now it is 69kg!
Impact, more land is being used to grow feed for animals instead of people which impacts the population in poorer nations. Price of grain has dramatically increased to meet this demand. Cost of wheat has risen consistently, Arab spring link to rise in food prices and access to food by general population.
In Rwanda, 40% of the children have stunted growth, this is because subsistence farmers are selling crops to make money instead of feeding themselves or their families. This has led to malnutrition and impact on development in these countries as children are often to malnourished to be productive in work or education.
What is the impact of all of this on the UK? We no longer carry food reserves, in the past there was 50 days food in the country today experts suggest we are only 9 meals away from anarchy! UK can no longer rely on buying food from other countries as China and India are also buying food and goods at a similar rate.
7 billion+ people on the planet
3.6 billion tonnes of food produced a year
Equivalent to 2700KCals per person per day
850 million people are undernourished globally
1 billion people do not get enough nutrients
By 2050 potentially 9.2 billion people on the planet and we will need to produce in more food. Many of these people will be living in urban areas and will be part of a new middle class which demands to eat meat (See previous notes)
What role would agricultural technology have on meeting future food supply issues?
Rice is grown partially submerged in paddy fields however it can’t survive in flood waters if completely submerged as the roots are starved of oxygen, it is estimated floods kill rice which could feed 30 million people….this is especially important in India and Bangladesh where seasonal flooding destroys large areas of rice land.
A strain of natural rice has adapted itself and is able to survive submerged and continue to grow, gene from this rice has been added to popular strains or rice to make them more resilient to the impact of flooding.
10 000 farmers now growing scuba rice which means that they can survive floods and continue to meet the food needs of the population.
Rinderpest virus is a measles virus that kills cattle when they are kept confined and in herds, it was responsible for a large number of animal deaths in the 19th and 20th century (wiped out most East African cattle during colonialism when western cows infected native cows)
Vaccine was developed and has since eradicated the virus which has meant more animals survive and can provide milk and meat for more people
Achia (?) tree, farmers in Botswana are growing crops underneath this tree, the tree leaves drop in rain and stay in sun which means that in hot weather the trees provide shade to plants like wheat growing underneath, when it rains the leaves fall which add nutrients for the ground and allows water to reach the ground. It means more arid land can be used for food production.
Genetically modifying plants through breeding can help provide essential nutrients to people, the orange flesh sweet potato is full of beta carotene which is full of vit A with 100grams giving a child 100% of their rda
Half a million people now use this crop to gain essential nutrients.
How can Insects be used to solve the global food issue.?
There are over 1.25 million insects known around the world with between 4-12 million more yet to be discovered. Insects are important as decomposers breaking down animals and adding them back into the nutrient cycle and ecosystem Globally 2 billion people eat insects as part of their regular diet and now the UN and EU are looking at how we can add them to our own diets.
Examples where insects are eater regularly are in:
South Africa – caterpillars
Malawi….swarms of midges harvested and eaten as pate
Japan, caddis fly sold in restaurants
Silk moth and worms eaten across Asia as a by product of the silk making process.
Already eating insects!!
Why eat insects?
It takes 10kg of feed to produce 1kg of cow! This takes up space and leads to large areas being cleared for livestock damaging the environment.
It takes 1.7kg of food to produce 1kg of crickets, very efficient, quick only takes weeks to produce and compact doesn’t take up much space.
Using waste to feed the insects to make it sustainable already happening in the farming of insects in the pet trade. Cost is still high however £30/£40 so not yet economically viable. 80/90% of an insect is pure protein from insects
Needs to market insects to the masses, needs to be presented in a way that makes it appealing and removes plate fright.
The pig idea is working to get more organic and other food waste fed to pigs. This would be good for the planet, and reduce the cost of feed for higher-welfare pig farmers and waste disposal for food businesses, and free up food supplies for people to eat.
2001 ban on food waste for use of agricultural feed means that more feed has to be grown to feed livestock and this reduces the amount of land available for growing other crops. During world war 2 all food waste has to be sent to feed chickens and pigs. Both animal are carnivores and are naturally cannibalistic!!
In the UK Food waste is often sent to digesters as a way to produce energy however it produces little energy for the costs involved. If waste is sent to pigs as food then more can be produced. More meat is produced and animal dung can be used as fertiliser and biomass fuel.
In the UK 15 million tonnes of food is sent to land fill which produces methane and waste whilst at the same time 40 million tonnes of soy is imported just to feed animals! Waste and costs don’t add up. 37% of all grains are used to feed animals in the UK however we only get 11 % back in terms of calories produced, if we are continuing to eat meat we need to think about production. Enough waste is thrown away each day to feed the 100 thousand pigs that go slaughter everyday! Feed system could potentially link together with the input being food waste and the output being food back on the supermarket shelves which then gets used as pig and chicken feed…and so the cycle goes on.
Already being done on a large scale in Japan where the meat is seen as a premium product and is sold as eco pork