Jamie Long // Columnist
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow from what is now just shy of 8 billion to a whopping 10 billion people, and feeding this population will be one of Mother Earth’s greatest challenges yet.
As the population has risen, so too has the development of methodologies that attempt to fight food insecurity, while at the same time sustaining the earth’s natural resources for generations to come. But, with all their successes, there are also flaws in the current systems that will need to be worked out as the numbers grow even more.
If you are not sure what is meant by the term ‘food insecurity’, you only need to look to its opposite. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) defines food security as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” In short, food insecurity is what occurs when hunger is paired up with the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU).
As reported by the FAO, the number of hungry people had been declining for decades, but this isn’t true anymore. Today, the number of malnourished people in the world is back to levels seen in 2010–11 with more than 820 million people across the globe not having enough food to eat. Simultaneously true; no region is exempt from the epidemic of obesity. So what gives?
The association of food insecurity with obesity varies largely depending on the income level of a country. In order to fully understand this, it is important to note the connections between hunger, malnutrition, and the driving forces underlying each of these misfortunes. In low and lower-middle-income countries, living in a food-insecure household decreases the likelihood of being obese, while in upper-middle and high-income countries, food insecurity increases the likelihood of being overweight or obese. In other words, as national economies grow, people facing difficulties in accessing food have a higher risk of obesity. But what does this information tell us?
For the past several decades, in order to feed so many people, food producers across the globe have been employing a plethora of cheap, convenient and non-nutritious natural food alternatives. At the same time, farmers, in an attempt to increase food production through agricultural intensification and expansion, have struggled to produce a viable amount of food at a fair and/or accessible cost to those who suffer from hunger. Together both of these food production approaches have had inevitably negative effects on the environment in areas such as biodiversity loss, plastic pollution from packaging, the emission of greenhouse gases and the unsustainable use of land and water resources.
To make matters worse, as the earth’s population continues to increase, massive amounts of arable land (land that is capable of producing food crops) are being lost. This loss of precious arable land is largely due to ever-evolving industrial development and urbanization. However, factors such as mono-cropped farming ventures, and other unsustainable agricultural practices leading to soil erosion have also proven to be major contributors to the loss of food-capable lands around the world.
All this to say, our global food, resource, and land-use systems have gone wrong, and if changes aren’t made soon, I don’t know how the earth’s growing populations are going to be able to survive. But despite it all, I have not lost hope! So what are some of the current opportunities being employed in order to fight this battle of food insecurity and resource depletion?
In order to accelerate progress towards ending hunger, achieving food security, and ensuring improved levels of nutrition, technological advancements and efforts in areas such as organic farming, urban farming and vertical farming techniques (including the use of hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic systems) are being employed. Here in the city of Vancouver, organizations such as Sole Food Street Farms and Terramera are proven industry leaders in the fight against local food insecurity. Sole Food Street Farms grows vegetables seasonally within the city and sells this produce to local citizens and restaurants. Terramera (a separate but equally as cool entity) focuses largely on leading the industry in advanced technological initiatives for clean food with a mission to increase global yields while decreasing synthetic chemical loads. Overall, both Sole Food Street Farms and Terramera (as well as many other local and non-local organic, urban and vertical farms) are focused extensively on growing affordable and clean food for everyone. In doing so, they fight hunger and food insecurity while ensuring efficient and sustainable uses of the land on which their food is grown. What’s better is that farming and food production initiatives such as these are being employed and growing across the globe! According to the Economist, investors are ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into vertical farming in order to help feed the world’s growing population.
I believe that keeping food local and healthy, while ensuring the most optimum and efficient uses of land and technology is a great start to putting an end to food insecurity while embracing sustainability. Furthermore, as technology continues to advance, new approaches will improve the efficiency and productivity of modern food systems. As I see no need to completely abolish ‘traditional’ farming techniques, I believe that together, urban farming and vertical farming will most-definitely help to fill the voids of food insecurity in the coming decades. And as traditional agriculture practices (hopefully) begin to embrace organic farming practices, they can help to preserve what precious resources are needed for our earth’s future generations to thrive.