Feature Report: Food, Energy and Climate

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Growing Awareness for a More Sustainable Food System

Solutions are available for reducing the food system’s environmental and energy footprint, including more efficient agricultural and ranching methods, shorter – or at least better designed – food supply chains and efforts to fight against crop destruction and waste, so that food isn’t produced in vain. Across the globe, there is a growing awareness that something must change.

One of the world’s challenges will be to feed a population of 9 to 10 billion people in 2050. ©Thinkstock

By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9-10 billion people, with the bulk of the growth taking place in the developing world, particularly Africa. The increase will be accompanied by rapid urbanization (in 2050, 66% of the population will live in cities, compared to 54% today) and an overall rise in the incomes of the urban middle class. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, food production will have to increase by 60-70% to feed this larger, richer and more urban population1

The first important thing is to know whether the world will be able to meet this requirement and at the same time reduce chronic undernourishment – in other words hunger – which, although declining, still affects nearly 800 million people, and malnutrition, which affects more than two billion people.

The second important thing is to anticipate the impact of these increasing needs on energy consumption and greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... emissions. Three decisive factors need to be considered: production methods, food loss and waste, and diet. These factors must be dealt with differently from one country to another and according to their individual level of economic development.

60-70%: The increase in global food production needed by 2050.

Production Methods

In the developing world and especially Africa, the continent which is expected to show the sharpest demographic growth, improvements can be made in practically all areas. These include plant selection, in order to choose the most robust, climate change-resistant varieties; water-use efficiency; per-hectare crop productivity, thanks to fertilizer and crop protection solutions, and soil-fertility maintenance to avoid deforestation. Similar progress, backed by research and best available technologies, is also possible in the ranching industry.

In the developed world, especially Europe, extensive research is being conducted on agro-ecological practices such as biological agriculture; conservation agriculture (maintaining the soil’s agronomic potential) and precision agriculture (observing variability in crop production between and within fields). In ranching, solutions range from increasing the size of grazing plots and improving livestock productivity through better control of animal breeding. 

Reducing energy consumption is achieved through other actions as well, both upstream and downstream. Upstream, through the use of more fuel-efficient equipment, localized renewable energies and sprinkler systems adapted to local conditions thanks to digital data transmission, and downstream, through the use of more sustainable food packaging and the reduction of single-serve packaging (food packaging currently accounts for 80% of household packaging).

The entire food chain uses about 30% of the world’s energy.

Food Loss and Waste

Approximately one-third of the world’s food products – and therefore one-third of the energy used to produce them – is lost or wasted, according to the FAO.

In Africa, losses are caused by inadequate infrastructure, including irrigation, storage and cooling facilities, transportation and distribution systems. Many products also perish due to the sub-standard quality of local processing operations.

In Europe and North America, per-capita food loss and waste is estimated at 200-300 kilograms per year. A large percentage of this waste is attributable to consumption habits. The number of campaigns aimed at reducing food loss and waste is rising. They are targeted at stakeholders across the entire food system, from producers, manufacturers and distributors to consumers, restaurants and cafeterias.

Diet

Food supplies are unevenly distributed across the globe. A person living in sub-Saharan Africa has an average food energy intake of 2,500 kilocalories per day, compared to 4,000 kcal for an inhabitant of an organization for economic co-operation and development (oecd)Founded in 1960, the OECD promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world... (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) country. According to the Agrimonde Foresight Study2, an average food energy intake of 3,000 kcal per day, including 500 kcal from animal products, would be sufficient to meet minimum physiological requirements.

A major issue of discussion today involves determining what percentage of animal-based foods is essential to the human diet. At present, three-quarters of dietary protein comes from animals and one-quarter from plants, with wide disparities between individual countries: in France, for example, per-capita meat consumption is roughly 100 kilograms per year, compared to 50 kg in China and less than 10 kg in the poorest countries. If the Western lifestyle were to be adopted across the globe, demand for animal, meat and dairy products would double by 2050. Such a colossal development would be untenable in terms of both space and greenhouse gas emissions3.