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  • Jin Gan

Feeding 9 Billion People By 2050 (Part 1)

By year 2050, we will have an additional 2 billion people on planet Earth. However, the increase in population isn't the only reason why we need to produce more food. As the middle class population around the world gets wealthier, the demand for meat, eggs and dairy increases as well. This is especially true for China and India. With the trend of growing population and richer diets, the amount of crops we need by 2050 might need to be double of what we currently have.

Agriculture is vital to feeding 9 billion people by 2050. With that being said, it is also one of the contributors to global warming. From National Geographic, a simple question was ask: How can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture? 5 steps were proposed and we completely agree with the solutions provided. However, we feel like there are more to add to the discussion.


Step 1:Freeze Agriculture’s Footprint

What does it mean to freeze agriculture's footprint? Essentially, we're looking at doubling the productivity of farming in order to produce twice as much food and fibre on the same amount of land.

WWF has identified 8 steps, when taken together, could be the solution to produce enough food for everyone while limiting the environmental harm.

Food Waste

1. Eliminate Waste in the Food Chain

Today, one out of every three calories produced are being wasted. In developing countries, these wastage are due to post-harvest lost, lack of infrastructure, and the lack of storage. In developed countries however, such as the United States or European Union, wastage usually occurs in the home or restaurants when unused food is being thrown away.

If everyone worked hard together to eliminate wastage in food chain today, the food needed by 2050 to sustain everyone could potentially be halved.

There are currently many initiatives to eliminate food waste. Here are 5 examples of such initiatives.

a. Bans on Food Dumping

France has recently passed a law where it will be illegal for supermarkets to throw away food that is still edible. This will cause supermarkets in France to give away to food to either charity or farms for animal feed instead of throwing away the food as they will face possibilities of fines or even jail time.

b. Independent Supermarket Initiatives

Tesco, considered the largest super market in England, will be launching a pilot program at 10 stores in the UK where it will distribute 30,000 tons of perishable food annually to registered charities. Other supermarkets in the UK such as Sainsbury's and Morrisons have similar programs where perishable foods would be given away rather than being thrown into the trash.

c. Food Rescue Programs

Universities often do not know how much food to prepare, hence causing large amount of foods being wasted. Food for Free, based in Cambridge, Mass., rescues and redistributes food from restaurants as well as supermarkets that would otherwise been thrown away, has a large presence on the college scene. They managed to gather some 2,500 pounds of untouched cooked food from Harvard and 40 - 100 pounds of food from MIT every week.

d. Celebrity Chef Experiments

Earlier, renowned chef Dan Barber, welcomed over 20 celebrity guest chef to participate in wastED. wastED is a community of chefs, farmers, fishermen, distributors, processors, producers, designers and retailers, working together to reconceive “waste” that occurs at every link in the food chain. Their goal is to celebrate what chefs do every day on their menus (and peasant cooking has done for thousands of years): creating something delicious out of the ignored or un-coveted and inspiring new applications for the overlooked byproducts of our food system.

e. Food Waste Startups

Entrepreneurs have been trying to come up with startup businesses that will make use of food waste as this will help reduce environmental impact and also help those suffering in hunger. There are a lot of startups which focuses on repurposing food that's been cooked or unsold food in supermarkets. Some startups also focuses on "ugly" fruits and vegetables which are normally not seen in the restaurant kitchen or supermarkets due to its unappealing shape or colour.

Plant Breeding

2. Harness Technology to Advance Plant Breeding

By combining the 21st Century Technology and the study of genetics, the amount of nutrients in different food can be scaled up. While doing this, it will also improve the productivity, drought tolerance and disease resistance in an era of climate change.


3. Share Better Practices More Quickly

High yield is essential for the farmers in terms of economic and also environmental impact. We must help improve the poorest performing producers to improve food production, increase income while simultaneously reduce environmental impacts. With the internet today, we are able to share information in a split second compared to decades ago.

An example would be a study conducted by Howland, F., L.A. Muñoz, S. Staiger-Rivas, J. Cock, and S. Alvarez. in year 2015 regarding data sharing and use of ICT's in agriculture. The study is conducted to analyse groups of Colombian fruit farmers' regarding their capacity to collect information and their interest and ability to take advantage of the opportunities offered by information and communication technologies (ICTs). The conclusion of the study shows that the farmers enjoy working in groups to take advantage of the synergies and complementary skills of each other. The farmers, in general, were very positive towards sharing information within their own circle as well as on a broader scales. However, one of the limiting factors of sharing is the lack of skills in using ICTs and the lack of farm records. In the study, it is observed that the farmers' rarely kept records and use them as management tools. This causes the lack of means to share information other than through oral or anecdotal transmission. However, the farmers were quick to grasp the advantages of regular record keeping and the advantages of sharing information. It is therefore important to start educating the farmers and cultivating a culture of measuring among the farmers. Training in ICTs and infrastructure development in rural areas would help the farmers tremendously in sharing information as well as helping them better manage their farms. It would make it much easier for the farmers to record data if simple digital tools were provided rather than by hand, which is the current status quo. Currently, the farmers have poor access to the internet and are generally not very comfortable in using ICTs. In order to facilitate farmers' adoption of technologies, special attention should be paid towards the younger generation and women as their are more adapt in using them.

The government also plays a very important role in dealing with the bottom 25 percent of producers that are responsible for a majority of environmental impacts. The government must be pro active in adopting policies that are able to help shift the whole performance curve.


4. Use Less to Produce More: Efficiency Through Technology

As mentioned earlier, the goal is to double our the productivity of farming while reducing environmental impacts. Hence, we need to double the efficiency of every agriculture input. This includes water, fertiliser, pesticides, energy and infrastructure. Agriculture uses up to 70 percent of global water use. At this moment in time, it takes approximately one litre of water to produce one calorie of food and this could be improved. Imagine if we are able to halve the water used and double the production. This would increase the efficiency by four times.

Land Degradation

5. Rehabilitate Degraded Land

First, let us define 'land degradation'. At its simplest form, it is the diminution of the biological productivity expected of a given tract of land. Typically, on degraded land soil is impoverished or eroded, less usable water is available due to increased surface runoff or contamination, vegetation is diminished, reproduction of biomass is lowered and biodiversity is reduced. 'Rehabilitation', on the other hand, entails making the degraded land useful to humans again. It seeks to optimise the production of usable biomass of a site. The main purpose is utilisation.

The four major categories of constraints causing land degradation are:

a. Geophysical - includes conditions such as rocky outcrops, boulders, gravels in the soil, too steep slopes, salinity, alkalinity, waterlogging, landslides, exposed sites, poor nutrient and moisture conditions.

b. Environmental - which includes the interaction of rainfall, snow, temperature, erosivity of rain and wind, moisture and nutrient balance, overexposure to radiant energy.

c. Biological - includes the interaction of humans and animals with the resources, pests and diseases, and ecological balance

d. Socioeconomic - which includes the attitudes as well as reaction of the people individually or collectively.

Instead of converting new land for agriculture use, we must be able to rehabilitate degraded, abandoned and under-performing lands. By restoring and cultivating these lands, we would be able to significantly reduce the pressure on critical ecosystems such as rain forests, peat swamps and high-biodiversity savannas. Research shows that by rehabilitating degraded or under-performing land for agriculture, it may actually be more profitable than converting forest land for agriculture use. A good example would be Brazil, where at least 10 million hectares of degraded land have been rehabilitated and planted with crops. The Brazilian government aims to do the same on 25 million additional hectares of degraded land by 2020. Other countries should take Brazil as a role model to follow.

Property Rights

6. Establish Greater Property Rights

It will be very hard for the farmers to invest in sustainability if they do not own the land. One big obstacle to sustainable farming is the lack of clear property rights. For example, in Africa, women grow most of the food but they rarely have property rights to the land in their name. Foreign assistance for economic development could be linked to the establishment of property rights for individuals. The African Union, NEPAD or the World Bank could take the lead in encouraging nations to ensure property rights.

Over consumption of food

7. Balance the Disparity Between Under and Over Consumption There is a tremendous disparity between under and over consumption of food. Over one billion people in the world do not have enough food whereas the wealthiest one billion people eat too much. About half of the people that doesn't have enough to eat do not own land or produce their food. Today, these people are split between rural and urban areas. However, by 2050, most of them will be living in cities.

The rural poor in Africa have always had access to so called "famine foods", which are nutrient dense leaves of common plants such as cassava and sweet potatoes. However, for urban poor, there is no such luxury for them. About 40 % of children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from malnutrition. These leaves of common plants, often discarded, could be very useful to enrich flour in school lunch programs or in home cooking.

Soil Carbon

8. Restore Soil Carbon

If conserving farmland for future generation is our priority, soil carbon or organic matter is key to help us achieve our goals. The best measurement of rehabilitated soil is the increased in organic matter. With that being said, half of the world's top soil in the tropics, in which most soil carbon resides, has been lost in the past 150 years. By increasing soil carbon, this will result in increased productivity, reduces input use, and increases farmer's income.

There are 2 ways in which could help farmers conserve their soils. First and foremost is to put great emphasis on tree crops and deep rooted grasses, which build soil carbon and reduce erosion. The second method is to create a carbon market for agriculture. Retailers or leading brands that purchase commodities such as sugar, milk, coffee, cocoa or palm oil could also buy carbon that the farmer sequestered or avoided releasing during the production. WWF, with support from the Dutch government, and food-linked companies including Unilever, Nutreco and Rabobank, are exploring the amount of carbon that could be bundled with commodities and sold in global markets.

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