Yes, it is possible to sustainably feed Earth’s growing population
Earth’s population is increasing, expected to reach an unfathomable 9.5 billion people by the year 2050. This growth puts more pressure on the planet’s resources as the population needs to be sheltered, will want to travel, will look for access to electricity, and—most basically—will need to be fed.
A university in the Dutch town of Wageningen is working on this last issue and have proposed workable solutions based on their research. If any institution retains experts capable of addressing the problem, it is here. The university is known throughout Europe and worldwide for its food science programs. Students actively seek out the chance to receive a degree there and corporations have relocated to the town in order to gain proximity to university research.
First Challenge: Look Beyond Traditional Farming Methods
Experts at the University are questioning the capacity for traditional farming methods to feed populations. They note that under traditional methods, a substantial portion of the current population is malnourished. In support of this belief, they show that in a world population estimated at seven billion people, two billion are malnourished and 800 million people are experiencing chronic hunger. An additional 500 million are considered obese, possibly due to a poor choice of foods in their diets or the content of the nutritional structure in the food they do consume.
For those that do have access to food, the food they eat already falls short of meeting nutritional requirements. The variety of available food types is shrinking, and the content of the food has changed. In fact, some studies indicate that, due to farming methods, current crops contain fewer nutrients than their identical counterparts which were farmed several decades earlier.
Research also shows concerns that increasing the yields of current lands for farming would have adverse consequences if traditional ways of growing food aren’t changed. In a recent paper, The University’s Professor Pablo Tittonell states that existing farming methods are not sustainable, pollute the environment, reduce biodiversity, and are partially responsible for eroding human health. He advocates for doing things differently going forward in order to produce better results.
Reduce Food Waste
One of the simplest ways to increase the planet’s capacity for feeding growing populations is to not waste as much of it. Professor Titonell stated that approximately 30 to 50 percent of all food that is produced doesn’t reach the human stomach. Experts at the university agree that if waste was addressed at a global level, could reduce environmental impacts by a sixth from where they are currently. Reducing food waste isn’t a straightforward task. University experts believe it will need to be addressed across multiple sources of the food production system. This includes reconsidering everything from how food is grown, harvested, and stored to how it is transported. It also includes looking at ways that it is packaged and labeled with care information and “best used by” dates.
Grow Food Closer To Where It Will Be Consumed
Some experts in global hunger have stated that the main issue with feeding the world is an inadequate distribution infrastructure. Researchers at the University feel differently. They emphasize a need to grow food closer to where it will be consumed rather than to simply find new ways to transport it. In support of their belief, these experts point out that currently, much of the world’s food is grown in more developed nations and then transported to other places. Not only does this boost the carbon footprint of food but it also increases the chance of reduced nutritional value over time, and increases the possibility that food will spoil and become inedible.
University researchers suggest that the world’s food supply would benefit if smaller farmers in less developed areas would be incentivized to grow food for their regions. To make this solution work at peak capacity, they could also be taught more modern and sustainable ways to farm. Such an approach would reduce the carbon footprint of what they eat and lessen their region’s dependence on food from more developed areas.
Diversify Sources Of Protein
In finding an approach that could adequately feed a growing population, researchers focused on how to increase protein sources available. Protein is a key nutritional building block that helps with organ function and muscle development. The team believed that identifying more sustainable sources for protein that has a lower carbon footprint is more than possible. University experts encourage people to adopt more flexible diets that can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supporting their health and wellness. Ultimately, such diets would also reduce fertilizer use, land use, and water or wastewater issues that are connected to the livestock industry.
In a search for diverse protein sources, some around the world believe lab-grown meat may viable. Currently, scientists are working on ways to make the imposter meat look, feel, and taste. Consumers aren’t yet sold on the product, however. Despite best efforts, they find that it doesn’t match up to what they are used to getting from livestock proteins and they’re put off by the growing process.
Solutions May Offer Hope
While the world’s growing population only make it more challenging feed the planet, the work of scientists and experts in places like Wageningen University offer hope. As their work continues, individuals, governments and industries may learn from what they’ve done so that, ultimately, no one is left hungry and everyone on the planet thrives.