21st Century Challenges – Feeding the 9 Billion

9 billion

Last night I attended a discussion entitled ‘Feeding the 9 Billion’ at the Royal Geographical Society; this is part of their public engagement series ’21st Century Challenges’. This is the fourth talk I have been too as part of this series, all have been interesting and engaging with a carefully selected and interesting range of speakers.

The speakers were:

  • Jay Rayner (Chair) – Food critic, presenter and author. @jayrayner1 Jay Rayner’s book is entitled ‘Greedy Man in a Hungry World’
  • Tim Wheeler – Professor of Crop Science, University of Reading University Website
  • Peter Smithers – Entomologist based at the University of Plymouth University Website
  • Edd Colbert – Campaigns Coordinator, the Pig Idea @eddcolbert

Jay Rayner

  • Issue is the fact that our current world population is 7 billion increasing to 9 billion by 2050, by 2030 we will need to produce 50% more food on the same amount of land.
  • In 1975 the average Chinese adult ate 10kg of meat a year, now they consume 45kg of meat a year and that is predicted to rise to 69kg in 2030. This is significant when the figures are multiplied by China’s 1.1 billion population.
  • To put these figures in perspective at its peak the average adult in the United States consumed 83kg of meat a year, though that figure is now dropping.
  • There is the increasing commodification of food and price spikes.
  • Jay presented the argument that the Arab Spring in part happened because of food price rises and the inability of governments in the Middle East to subsidise and control food prices.
  • In Rwanda 40% of the population are either mentally or physically stunted due to malnutrition.
  • A subsistence farmer may end up selling food into a market place due to high crop prices to afford other living essentials, this may mean that his family suffer malnutrition as they end up eating low nutrient foods.

Tim Wheeler

  • 3.6 billion tonnes of food is produced per year. There is enough food produced to provide every person on the planet with 2,700 calories per day. However there are 850 million people undernourished and 1 billion people have micro-nutrient deficiencies.
  • Technology has lead to this place and taken people out of hunger. However by 2050 the world’s population will have reached 9.2 billion which will require 70% more food.
  •  In addition the future will present the challenges of the expansion of urban living and the middle class, there will also challenges from climate change and resource security.
  • There is no technology silver bullet.
  • However Tim presented 5 challenges that might play a part in increasing food production.

Scuba Rice

  • Traditional rice can’t survive underwater, therefore large amounts of rice are lost to flooding each year.
  • Scuba rice can live underwater for 17 days compared to the 7 days of normal rice.
  • Scuba rice is currently grown by 100,000 farmers across India; however there is a target to have 18 million farmers growing it.
  • For more information see this DFID case study I found while writing this blog post here.

Eradication of the Cattle Plague Rinderpest

  • Kills 95% of the cattle it comes into contact with.
  • Vaccine was invented in 1950 and a heat sensitive vaccine that could be used more widely was invented in the 1980s.
  • Declared eradicated by the World Organisation for Animal Health in 2011.
  • For more information see this Science Article here. (subscription required – if you are one of my students ask me for a copy).

Planting Masangu Tree (Faidherbia Albida)

  • This tree is unique as it holds its leaves during the dry season and drops  the leaves during the rainy season.
  • Crops can be grown under it.
  • This increased yields in Zambia from 1.3 tonnes per ha to 4.1 tonnes per ha.
  • Currently there are 160,000 farmers in Zambia growing  crops under the trees.
  • For more information read this article.

Providing Insurance to Farmers

  • Commercial insurance providing insurance to farmers in Kenya / Ethopia against the risk of loosing livestock to drought.
  • Farmers pay a premium and then if there is drought the insurance will pay out.
  • It is expensive to farmers but has paid out in 2 of the last 3 years.
  • More information here.

Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato

  • Very rich in the nutrient Vitamin A.
  • 100g of this variety provides a child with 100% of their daily requirement of Vitamin A.
  • Replaces a crop traditionally grown anyway and appealing to farmers / consumers at local markets.
  • More information can be found in this report.

Peter Smithers

  • Insect protein is a potential solution for the coming problem.
  • There are 1.25 million species of insect, 4 – 12 million species of insect to still be discovered. 1,900 species are regularly eaten around the globe.
  • Vital in food production; insects pollinate and help process waste.
  • 2 billion people currently eat insects as part of their regular diet.
  • Insects are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • In 2008 the UN-FAO began to investigate eating insects as a solution to the coming problem. They published this report in 2013.
  • Peter then gave a number of varied examples of insects being eaten currently and the fact that actually there are probably insects in many of the foods we eat already, we just don’t know it!
  • He talked about how much more efficient insects are compared to cows. To produce 1kg of beef would require 10kg of feed and 24 months to reach maturity. This is compared to 1kg of crickets which would require 1.7kg of feed and only 1 month to reach maturity. This is predominantly because insects are more efficient as they don’t produce heat.
  • There are however a number of challenges before insect farming for food production could happen on a large scale. In addition there is the problem of people being put off by what they look like.
  • However Peter mentioned a group Eat Ento; which are presenting insects more like Sushi which is making them more appealing; see their website http://www.eat-ento.co.uk/.

Edd Colbert

  • Edd is from the The Pig Idea. and he explained what they are doing and how this could be a wider part of the solution for the growing food problems.
  • The idea is to use domestically abailable food waste to feed pigs.
  • Since 2001 and changes in law very little food waste is fed to animals; instead animals are fed on grain and food waste is disposed of.
  • Edd introduced the food waste pyramid:pyra
  • One of the key advantages of feeding waste food to pigs is it keeps it in the food chain.
  • We waste millions of tonnes of food a year and import 40 million tonnes of soy to feed animals.
  • 37% of food production goes towards feeding animals, yet we only get 11% back due to the inefficiency of eating meat.
  • The Pig Idea is feeding pigs from waste food in London (tofu waste, whey, vegetables and brewers grain) and aims to feed 5,000 people with the resulting pork.
  • “You are what your meat eats”

Questions

The last 30 minute of the event where dedicated to questions. I did not record all of the questions; however I did note down some interesting points.

  • In Japan food waste goes to an industrial monitored plant and converted into a yoghurt based food. This provides consistent nutrition for the animals and allows the process to be monitored for food standards.
  • It is safe to feed pigs meat as they are naturally cannibalistic; this is not true for other animals such as cows.
  • In Las Vegas buffet waste goes to feed pigs on a pig farm.
  • We don’t know what the impact will be of large scale farming of insects on water stress. However changing the way we feed animals will use less water.

Please note these are my notes from the event and there may be errors.

The series website can be found at: http://www.21stcenturychallenges.org ; the next discussion in the series is Big Data, Big Impact? on Thursday 21st November at 7pm.