An Interstellar leap to food sustainability

The first presentation I did for this module regarding contemporary environmental problems and their origins is about the impact of climate change and air pollution. Most people, like myself can probably list several detrimental consequences on top of their head. But without research, few understand that food security is arguably the most pressing issue [1].

World population is currently projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050 by the UN [2], a revision in their previous figure of 9.7 billion estimated in 2015. The growth in number of people on the planet is not dwindling, in fact, it is accelerating. Food is the foremost concern with overpopulation and is driving many of the world of the world’s greatest challenges. 815 million people – one in nine – still go to bed on an empty stomach each night. One in three suffer from some form of malnutrition [3].

In 2014, one of my favourite films was Interstellar, portraying a very bleak future where there is no more food. In the sci-film that resonates with so many, no more food leads to no more lifestyle, no more scientific breakthrough and no more hope. Interestingly in the film, there is a montage where people talk about their regret for wasting food. While in reality, the UK is throwing away £13bn of food each year [4].

Thus, I was surprise to learn that very few blogs on the site were written directly about food. The usual concern is about the output of food production, hampered by primitive agriculture and decreasing soil quality. Yet, according to the WBCSD, even if we could grow all our food sustainably and meet such an unprecedented population demand, we would still be faced with the fact that one third of the food produced globally never reaches the consumer [5]. Additionally, food waste generates almost as many global CO2 emissions as the biggest countries such as the US and China.

One blog [6] talks briefly about FReSH, an initiative from the WBCSD, but the writer only mentions one aspect of the programme which is encouraging sustainable lifestyle. The main focus of FReSH is transformational change in global food systems and valorising food loss and waste in the supply chain before it reaches your dinner table [7].

Sustainable development of food is also a lot more attractive to the private sector. An estimate by the WHO placed the industry sizes the food and agriculture industry at US$1.351 trillion [8], one of the biggest. Leaner and more efficient production with better value chain represent a massive economic opportunity. Food can go from being a cause of challenges to becoming a way to solve them, creating a positive social impact.

One example highlighted during a FReSH meeting that I attended was about the production of tomatoes in Spain. Traditionally, chutney is made using red tomatoes only, meaning tonnes of green tomatoes must be discarded. As a result of FReSH’s intervention, a new type of chutney that uses red and green tomatoes was developed and recently launched in the UK. This initiative helps both the Spanish famers and the chutney producer.

The question here, is again, would this be enough, as this instance only represents a single effort from European based firms. As we all understand, the majority of food challenges lies with the developing world.

Word count: 549

By Nam Le

 

[1] https://webstore.iea.org/weo-2016-special-report-energy-and-air-pollution

[2] https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html

[3] http://www1.wfp.org/zero-hunger

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/10/uk-throwing-away-13bn-of-food-each-year-latest-figures-show

[5] https://www.wbcsd.org/Projects/FReSH/News/It-is-time-to-fix-our-broken-food-systems

[6] https://lumsatthewbcsd.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/green-reality-sustainable-day-to-day-life/

[7] https://www.wbcsd.org/Projects/FReSH

[8] https://www.plunkettresearch.com/statistics/Industry-Statistics-Global-Food-Industry-Statistics-and-Market-Size-Overview/

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