The world population is growing steadily and is projected to reach 9 billion by the year 2050. In less than forty years, 2 billion more people will need housing, jobs and food. Furthermore, wealth is -fortunately- expected to increase, which means that diets will change as well.
Feeding the world in 2050
To meet these demands sustainably, much must happen. This will be quite a job, especially considering that the amount of arable land will not increase. Moreover, climate change and population pressure are likely to reduce available acreage. Another challenge is the impending scarcity of water, phosphate and fuel, for example. We have several pathways to achieve the transitions we need to reach a sustainable, affordable, reliable and high-quality food system able to meet the various growing demands.
Looking at production is a logical choice. The Growth Yield Gap Atlas shows the yield potential of existing farming lands. This data indicates where investments in agricultural and technological developments are most successful. Programmes such as N2Africa (carbon) or Manos al agua (water) strive to improve local production through better and smarter use of natural resources.
A more technical solution can be found in the most basic process in the entire food supply system: photosynthesis. This is the elementary process of transforming water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates (such as sugars) and oxygen with the help of sunlight. In many plants, the efficiency of photosynthesis is low. In the Photosynthesis 2 programme, 51 institutes collaborate to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis.
Besides efforts to improve food production, there is room for improvement after production as well; as much as forty per cent of all the food produced globally is wasted, either during production or during consumption. In the Netherlands, 34 kilogrammes of food is disposed of annually per consumer. There are many ways to prevent food waste.
Sustainable Development Goal 2
Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger) or food security, encompasses more than just hunger. Malnutrition and overnutrition (obesity) are included. Besides the 800 million people facing hunger daily, the FAO estimates 1 billion people suffer from malnutrition as a result of a lack of vitamins and minerals, as well as some 2 billion people being overweight, including 650 million with obesity. Research into consumer behaviour is crucial in this regard. The protein transition is an essential factor in consumer behaviour, next to technical aspects such as meat replacements.
The programme ‘Agriculture for Health & Nutrition (A4NH)’ analyses the potential of agricultural development to deliver gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor.
There is no single path to a world without hunger. But by focussing on a more integrated approach, interdisciplinary research and collaboration with governments, private parties and research institutes, we work on sustainability goals such as climate-smart food systems.