Can We Meet The ‘Future Food’ Challenge?

A new overview published in Economy & Markets says there’s no way around it: The world will have to produce 50 per cent more food by 2050 to feed a population projected to reach 9 billion by then. No matter how you look at it, that’s a tough challenge – especially without alternative agriculture…

Wasted Food - © foodnavigator.comJust a tiny fraction of the billions of tons of perfectly good food tossed on
the compost heap every year, just because it doesn’t meet
someones’ size or appearance standards…

The article stems from a World Bank report that starkly states: We’ll need 50 per cent more food in 35 years than we produce now, we’ll have 25 per cent less food by then if nothing is done, largely because of climate change and other

Alternative agriculture includes a number of new and not-so-new ideas, some of which delight clean-food and safe-food advocates and some of which make them shudder. We’re talking hydroponics, intensive agriculture, increasing productive lands, increasing yields of established food crops, Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMOs) and such.

Safe-food and clean-food advocates have been sounding alarms over traditionally-grown foods, which rely on pesticides and fertilizers to yield successful crops. They’re also not happy with  GMOs. Some of the more strident opponents call those ‘Frankenfood’ and warn that not enough testing or long term studies have been done.

Eco-advocates are concerned that the world jungles are being cut down to add to the global stock of arable lands. The cost, they warn, is damage to the world’s ability to clean its atmosphere and regulate carbon levels.

Everybody agrees that increasing the yields of staple grain and seed crops is essential. Just don’t use GMOs or chemicals. That leaves the relatively laborious methods pioneered 150 years ago by Gregor Mendel when he first discovered the mechanisms governing passing on desirable traits in animals and plants by selective breeding. We don’t have time.

That leaves intensifying agriculture to increase yields per-unit-growing space, increasing growing space by bringing unconventional spaces online for growing food, and using unconventional methods of growing foods, like hydroponics.

Increasing yields per acre/hectare

New varieties of grains and other food crops have been developed in the past couple of decades, via traditional selective breeding methods, that are increasing yields considerably – but not enough to meet the 2050 Food Challenge. One way to intensify the yield of growing lands which is being increasingly employed is roofing them over. That means building greenhouses or plastic-covered hoop houses over good soil to keep them in production year round. This has already proven not only feasible, nut profitable in areas such as southwestern Ontario where literally square miles/hectares are already under glass (or plastic). They’re growing Tomatoes. For French’s. And, possibly, Loblaw’s PC Brand.

Using new techniques and technology

Suntech Greenhouses, just outside of Ottawa, Canada’s Capital, is also a year-round operation growing vine ripened tomatoes for the local and regional market. The restaurants and hotels have been beating a path to their door. They take the greenhouse concept one step farther, using hydroponic techniques to precisely control the amount of nutrients the plants get. No waste or ground water pollution. No soil required. They’ve also been experimenting with different colours of light to see which parts of the spectrum are most beneficial to the plants. NASA is even interested, via University of Guelph plant sciences researchers, as part of the planned manned mission to Mars…

Rethinking old techniques to open up new growing space

Several research programs around the world are looking at the ancient Asian tradition – also practiced by the Incans in South America – of terrace farming. This technique relies on a lot of front-end work, to turn hillsides into series of terraces in which field crops can be grown. Asians long ago pioneered innovative irrigation systems designed to share one water source across many levels of terraces, minimizing waste. One drawback to terracing is that large ‘efficient’ conventional agricultural machinery can’t be used to till, seed and harvest. But lesser challenges have led to the creation new technologies in the past.

And there’s the other end of the food supply chain to consider…

Let’s not forget the recent campaign to save ‘ugly’ food from the compost pile and recycle foods which are technically past their best-before date. Every year, world-wide, we just trash billions of tons of perfectly good food of all types, simply because it doesn’t meet marketing organization or supermarket chain appearance standards. And that’s just the beginning.

~ Maggie J.