9.6 Billion Coming for Dinner – how can we feed them?

If you are reading this and you’re not hungry, be thankful.  If you are hungry, remember what it feels like, and get yourself a snack.  In either case it’s important that you then read this post.

There are expected to be about 9.6 billion people roaming the planet by 2050 –  35% above today’s 7.1 billion, growing 190,000 daily for the next 36 years.  Who’s going to feed them all?  This is a huge challenge – – we cannot do this on ramen alone.

A new initiative is exploring ways to fit everyone around that big dinner table in 2050, using solutions we can all live with.  It’s called FutureFood 2050.  More below, but it considers novel approaches such as 3-D food printing, leveraging the awesome power of the world’s women, and more.  

THE CHALLENGE

World Hunger

This issue starts with a large serving of irony:  according to worldhunger.org, about 900 million people regularly go to bed hungry – – about one in six people in developing countries.  Yet, we produce enough calories globally to feed everyone now.  (Daily per-capita food production in 2012:  about 2700 calories (FAO), more than the 2000-2500 recommended for adult women and men).

The problem, as we know, is partially one of distribution – the food may exist, but many people simply have no access.   Unfortunately there isn’t (not yet, anyway) a way to electronically transmit calories around the world.

Why is this so hard to fix?  We did figure out how to get creme filling inside a Twinkie, right?

Twinkies

Well, it’s just a little more complicated – – there are some major dynamics at work, including:
POVERTY.  Between 1-2 billion people live on $1.25/day or less, concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
CONFLICT/DICTATORSHIPS/CORRUPTION.  These isolate refugees, or divert needed aid, or both.
INFRASTRUCTURE. About half of the food grown in developing countries is wasted because of insufficient processing, packaging and storage capability.  And it’s often impossible to import due to lack of reliable transport.  Related to this is access to water; an estimated 800 million people don’t have access to clean water.
CLIMATE CHANGE.  Whether you call it Global Warming or not, extreme droughts, flooding and the like disrupt ability to grow crops efficiently.
ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY.  Industry faces increasing challenges in producing food in a sustainable, responsible way.  And there is a phenomenal amount of food wasted in developed countries.

THE PATH TO A SOLUTION WE CAN AGREE ON

Swaminathan

The most important step has been recognizing the problem.  Importantly, the UN, through its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has conducted World Summits on Food Security to develop policy solutions to solve hunger.

But that’s at a policy level –  ultimately consumer acceptance, with willingness to compromise, is key to program adoption.  And that’s not always easy.  There have certainly been some dramatic food-centered communications over recent years.  But they’re often at either end of the ’science is always bad’ or ’science is the only solution’ spectrum.  In reality, most actions balance benefit with consequences; progress is made by objectively agreeing on serving the common good.

So how can we identify programs that we can all live with?  I think we can agree that this is a problem worth solving together.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has created FutureFood 2050 to take the discussion out of the conference rooms and to the people, to create an open dialogue and ultimately workable solutions. 

[IFT has 18,000 global members; they are often thought of as food scientists but their purview also includes most of the food supply chain.]

FutureFood 2050 will work over the next 18 months or so, featuring 75 conversations with the world’s leading independent-minded thought leaders, about how they think we can get to a healthier, safer and better-fed planet.  These opinion leaders will include policy makers, cultural influencers, scientists, engineers, avant-garde chefs, entrepreneurs, and more.

The first three interviews, covering 3-D food printing, leveraging the power of women, and an ‘Evergreen Revolution” (agricultural productivity without ecological harm) are already available on the website: www.futurefood2050.com.  Very interesting reading.

These interviews will then be distilled into a documentary by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, an Academy Award-nominated director, to be released in 2015.  As he said in an interview recently: “the hard part isn’t getting great content, it’s ‘how do you fit this amazing conversation into just 90 minutes’?”.

2050 seems a long time away, but world hunger is a massively complicated problem to solve, and it’s not too early to start.  Keep your eyes open as new interviews are conducted – – ultimately solutions may well come from the most unlikely places.

And once we solve that, we’ll work on getting the Cubs into the World Series.

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One response »

  1. Perhaps we need to look at both sides of the supply/demand issue.
    What do earthworms and the bacteria that make yogurt gel up have in common? Neither will reproduce if there’s not enough space or food in their environments. They see that if they limit their demand, the supply will last and create a great environment.
    Taking into account the millions of years the earth has existed, there are, at this moment more people above ground, than below ground. Far fewer dead people (over the millions of years) than live people right now.
    Perhaps we need to get as smart as earthworms and bacteria and stop reproducing at an unsustainable rate. Let’s go ahead and fix the distribution problem, and fix the problem from the other end as well. I did my small part – I didn’t have children (I can hear some of you cheering! Stop it! That’s just rude! :D)
    A bumper sticker I saw sums it up nicely, “the Earth’s got a bad case of people”.

    Like

    Reply

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