The world population is increasing rapidly and is expected to hit the 9 billion mark in 2050. In less than forty years, two billion more people will need food, housing and jobs. There is no single simple solution. Sustainable food security calls for a multi-disciplinary approach.
Much has yet to be done to meet the demand sustainably—quite the challenge, considering that farmland will not increase. In fact, climate change and population pressure are likely to cause a decline in the available farmland. An added difficulty is the increasing scarcity of water, phosphate and, for example, fuel. There are various paths we can take to achieve the necessary transitions towards a sustainable, affordable, reliable and high-value food system capable of meeting the varying and increasing demand.
Focusing on production is a logical choice. The Growth Yield Gap Atlas shows the potential yield of existing farmlands. Thus making it clear precisely where investments in technical and agricultural development would be most effective. Programmes such as N2Africa (nitrogen) or Manos al agua (water) work to enhance local production through smarter and better management of natural resources.
A more technical solution is found in the most fundamental process in the entire food supply: photosynthesis. The efficiency of this elementary process through which water and carbon dioxide are transformed into carbohydrates and oxygen through sunlight is still relatively low in many plants. In the Photosynthesis 2 programme, 51 institutes across the globe collaborate to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis.
In addition to improving food production, there is still room for improvement in the post-production stage. No less than 40% of the world’s food production is wasted during production, transportation, or in consumers’ households. In the Netherlands, an average of 34 kilogrammes of good food is wasted annually per consumer. There are numerous ways to prevent food waste.
Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger), or food security, is about more than just hunger. It is also about malnutrition and overnutrition (obesity). In addition to 800 million people suffering from hunger, the FAO estimates 1 billion people are malnourished due to vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Moreover, just under 2 billion people are overweight, of which 650 million are obese. Research on consumer behaviour is critical. Consumer behaviour is also a relevant factor in the protein transition, as are technological aspects such as meat substitutes. The ‘Agriculture for Health & Nutrition (A4NH)’ programme studies the potential of agricultural development for gender-neutral health and nutrition for the disadvantaged.
There is no single, unambiguous path towards a world without hunger. But by focusing on integrated policies, interdisciplinary research and collaboration with governments, private parties and research institutes, we work on sustainability goals such as climate-smart food systems.
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