In 2050, the global population will have risen to 9.5 billion people. This means that the world would need 70% more food. A circular agrofood system can use the currently available agricultural land to meet this requirement. An essential part of this system is in establishing smart connections between plant-based and animal products, in order to create an integral agrofood system.
Efficient system for food production
Dutch agriculture is renowned for its exceptionally efficient food production in terms of individual chains. However, there is huge scope for improving the efficiency of the overall system. For instance, some of our animal feed is now produced using crops and other materials that are fit for human consumption. This takes its toll on agricultural land that could be used to grow a great deal of food for people.
Circular agrofood: a zero-waste system
By definition, a circular agrofood system is ‘zero waste’. All products leaving an agricultural farm are used as an end product or raw material for one of the other links in the circular economy.
Crop production in a circular agrofood system is designed to ‘lock in’ minerals and organic material, so that they can be used to their fullest potential. For instance, crops will utilise nutrients from the soil more effectively than now. In the future, crops such as potatoes or rice may be able to bind atmospheric nitrogen for their food (leguminous plants are already capable of doing so). Precision agriculture offers a very targeted way of providing plants with the necessary nutrients.
A circular agrofood system uses residual flows from agriculture and the food industry to produce animal feed. These flows may be the parts of a plant that we now think of as having no use, such as straw and foliage. By using insects, worms or fungi, we can convert this matter into nutrient-rich raw materials for animal feed.
Cattle and sheep in a circular agrofood system would consume grass and herbs in pastures that are unsuitable for growing food, such as the peat grasslands in the Netherlands.
This allows the animals to convert residual flows and crops that are unsuitable for human consumption into high-quality, protein-rich food for people. This could be milk, eggs, or meat.
The animals’ manure is also a valuable source of organic material that replenishes the soil and completes the circular agrofood system.
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