There is reason for optimism, however. Over the last century, developments such as the Haber-Bosch nitrogen fixation process, advances in fertilisers, mechanisation and innovative breeding techniques have significantly improved agricultural yield. Developments in gene manipulation technologies have already transformed many aspects of agriculture, resulting in crops with genetic traits that boost yields, nutritional value, drought resistance and more. This technology is relatively young, and with the rise of gene-editing technologies, the stage is set for rapid advances in this arena.
There are new issues to resolve. The daily consumption of calories is increasing globally, and a growing middle class — especially in developing countries — is increasing demand for animal protein, which is perceived as being of higher quality. However, there is also a growing awareness that we can find protein alternatives and reduce our consumption of meat to curb the greenhouse emissions of livestock. A growing range of alternative proteins have a role to play here, from plant-based sources to cell-cultured beef.
Resolving issues with food waste will also help. Currently, around 40 per cent of globally produced food is wasted. This is enough to support a significant amount of the global population if we manage to prevent the loss and maintain this in the food chain through novel, innovative processes.
We can also improve global health through food. Changes in food consumption — the increase in daily calories and the ways we process and prepare food, for example — have had a big impact on the state of metabolic health globally; these lifestyle and diet changes have driven obesity and diabetes to the level of a global pandemic. This can be turned around by moving from producing calories to producing valuable, healthy food using food as an important factor to maintain and improve health. For a significant proportion of the global population, basic access to nutrition is the priority. But for many lucky enough to live in wealthier nations, the emphasis will move towards personalised nutrition for increased health and quality of life, fuelled by advances in consumer technology.
Selection of GESDA Best Reads and further key reports
There are a number of extensive, well-researched overviews investigating the future of our food systems. The IPCC, for instance, included food security in its 2019 report “Climate Change and Land”.1 In 2020, the Global Panel on Agriculture for Food Systems and Nutrition issued “Future Food Systems: For people, our planet, and prosperity”, which lays out an extensive analysis of the issues for policymakers.2 The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services issued a “Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” in 2019.3 More recently, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES Food) published a report on ways to transform food systems by 2045.4