Towards a Sustainable Global Food Narrative

earth-from-space-western

Interesting article titled Changing the Global Food Narrative by Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota, on global food policy. According to him, the current food narrative goes like this:

The world’s population will grow to 9 billion by mid-century, putting substantial demands on the planet’s food supply. To meet these growing demands, we will need to grow almost twice as much food by 2050 as we do today. And that means we’ll need to use genetically modified crops and other advanced technologies to produce this additional food. It’s a race to feed the world, and we had better get started.

The article looks at all of the fallacies in this current narrative and suggests this alternative:

The world faces tremendous challenges to feeding a growing, richer world population — especially to doing so sustainably, without degrading our planet’s resources and the environment. To address these challenges, we will need to deliver more food to the world through a balanced mix of growing more food (while reducing the environmental impact of agricultural practices) and using the food we already have more effectively. Key strategies include reducing food waste, rethinking our diets and biofuel choices, curbing population growth, and growing more food at the base of the agricultural pyramid with low-tech agronomic innovations.Only through a balanced approach of supply-side and demand-side solutions can we address this difficult challenge.

One of the primary drivers of this changed narrative is changing what we eat.

We could do much to ease the pressure on the global food system by looking first at transforming diets where they are already very rich, like North America and Europe. Shifting to less meat-intensive diets in these regions could have dramatic impacts on the food system. But just as important is to focus on the changing diets of newly affluent people — for example, new middle-class people in the cities of China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere. Will they continue to eat a mostly plant-based diet, with little waste, or will they move toward a meat-rich Western diet? In fact, what these people choose to eat in the coming decades will determine much of the future of the world’s food system.

Here is how our food policy and food choices make a difference in yield today.

the typical Midwestern farm could theoretically provide enough calories to feed about 15 people daily from each hectare of farmland. But there’s a catch: People would need to eat the corn and soybeans these farms grow directly, as part of a plant-based diet, with little food waste. What Cassidy found was that the actual Midwestern farm today provides only enough calories to feed roughly five people per day per hectare of farmland, mainly because the vast majority of the corn and soybeans are being used to make ethanol or to feed animals. Amazingly, feeding five people per day per hectare is comparable to the production of an average farm in Bangladesh today.

Foley also makes the case for why GMO crops aren’t the answer to increasing the amount of food grown worldwide.

Can we meet the challenges of changing food policy in the US and setting an example for other developing nations? I don’t know, but in order to feed the world in the decades ahead, we need to work for a sustainable global food policy and change the current unsustainable narrative.

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