Feeding The World – Future Foods & Efficiencies
As Band Aid rightly said, we need to Feed The World but as our climate changes and populations grow, how easy will it be to sufficiently feed everybody? We don’t even do a very good job of it now because already around 870 million people in the world are undernourished so how are we going to cope in the future?
There are some interesting potential solutions being worked on and I’ve covered some below that have a genuine chance of making a difference.
Sustainable Fish Farms
Worldwatch released a report in 2008 that gave arguments for and against more intensive farming of fish and their conclusion was a cautiously positive one, saying:
Rather than contributing to environmental degradation, fish farming can be a critical way to add to the global diet.
One of the biggest problems is that to feed the varieties that consumers like to eat such as salmon and tuna, smaller species down the food chain are being fished from the open ocean and it may well be that the industry is now a net drain on the overall seafood supply.
Scientists are already working on solutions to this problem and the NOAA has some interesting findings and case studies here if you’d like to learn more. Essentially they say that we should be able to find ways around the fish-eat-fish downsides of current fish farming.
As far as sources of protein go, fish has a lower carbon footprint than most red meats and uses very little fresh water.
Insect Based Foods
How would you fancy eating a burger made out of insects? Well this may become a reality if insect farming goes industrial. The FAO have been considering this alternative food source for some time and in January 2012 they went through a technical consultation that showed there is potential.
While consumption by humans may be a little way off, the report did say that:
Raising insects for livestock and fish feed was deemed to have great potential in the short term, mainly because of the urgency to find a replacement for increasingly expensive fish meal and soybeans.
Thus, insect feeds may help solve the issue raised above regarding feeding farmed fish.
I can’t find any facts on this but IF the farming of insects requires less land than traditional grain-based animal feeds, it would lessen the need to clear land for farming which in turn reduces the rate of deforestation.
Why Did The Crab Blush? (Seaweed)
Seaweed is already used in many everyday products including ice cream, cosmetics and toothpaste but it could also form part of our diets. It is widely consumed in Asia but seaweed farms there are detrimental to the environment as they use large amounts of fertiliser.
There are now commercial seaweed farms in Europe which don’t use any fertiliser and are in fact helping to clean up the seas off the Dutch coast.
Seaweed grows very quickly and does not require any land which once again reduces the need to clear forests on land.
Seaweed can be used for animal/fish feed and also forms an ecological fertiliser which can alleviate the need for phosphorous based ones.
The most controversial solution is that of lab-grown meat. The technology is advancing and the world’s first lab-grown burger is scheduled to be ready this autumn but will consumers ever get used to the idea of eating something that “started life” in a Petri dish?
Given that most meats, particularly beef and lamb, are very carbon heavy in their production, growing an equivalent product with a fraction of the carbon footprint can surely overcome the issues with the livestock industry which may be responsible for as much as 51% of man made emissions.
Better Farming Methods in Africa
Better growing systems in parts of Africa could mean more food production in exactly the places where it is most urgently needed. A study by the World Agroforestry Centre showed that huge gains in crop yields can be achieved in two main ways.
Firstly, improving knowledge and working practices will help to maintain soil fertility and reduce degradation (and desertification) while also reducing costs and ensuring crops are planted at the optimal times.
Secondly, incorporating large numbers of specific trees among the crops can also aid soil fertility via natural fertiliser generated through leaf litter and through the nitrogen being fixed into the soil by the tree’s roots.
Specific yield increases vary but figures as high as 280% have been observed.
Reducing Food Waste
As much as 30 – 40% of all food produced in the world ends up wasted and there has to be solutions that prevent and retain this food waste and distribute it to those that need it. This mainly corresponds to food that is wasted during production but food waste in the home is just as important.
If we waste less food in the home, we won’t need to buy as much in the first place which means less is grown. Where we import crops from developing countries, people there can then keep more for themselves to eat instead of selling to the west or use the land for other purposes (such as reforestation).
What Can You Do?
There are a number of things you can do and I won’t cover them in any great detail here but you might:
- grow your own vegetables
- eat less meat, particularly beef and lamb
- buy the wonky veg when you shop to prevent them going to waste
- eat everything that you buy and freeze things for another day instead of throwing them away
- repurpose leftovers for delicious snacks or lunches
- buy reduced items to prevent them going to landfill
There are probably ways to feed an ever growing population but they may require a change in the eating habits of many people, mostly in the developed world. We have to accept that eating meat on a daily basis is unsustainable especially as lab-grown meat is years away from hitting the shelves.
One problem as far as I can see is that consumers are going to have to get behind new foods such as insect based ones if they are to be commercially viable. There is no point in making an insect and seaweed burger if nobody is prepared to buy and eat it and I fear that the average person in high income parts of the world will take one look and reach past to the beef burgers once more.
What are your thoughts? Would you eat lab grown meat or an insect based product?
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