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How will Earth feed 9 billion people by 2050?

Consumption

Over 795 million people in the world are hungry, and by 2050 there will be an additional 2 billion people to feed. Is the Earth able to provide enough food for our exploding population?

What is the worst mistake that humans have ever made? According to an article by public intellectual Jared Diamond, humans decision to domesticate animals and intensively cultivate plants is “a catastrophe from which we have never recovered.”

With an exponentially growing population, nearly 800 million people who are currently hungry, and catastrophic environmental damage from burning fossil fuels, centuries of trying optimize food production could culminate by sending us into an unprecedented global food crisis.

Around 10,000 years ago humans abandoned hunting and gathering practices to remain in consistent areas to cultivate crops and develop agriculture, because more food was produced with less labour. Diamond states that the consequences of this transition lead to social and gender inequality, deep class divisions, rulers leading societies by using power in cruel ways, and rapid spread of disease due to crowded living in villages.

Fast forward a few hundred years to 2018 and it becomes apparent that there are major flaws in international food systems. Over 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities, social inequality and population growth are causing food prices to skyrocket, and climate change has caused an alarming loss of one third of the world’s arable land. Whether or not this chaos was triggered by cultivating crops and animals, meeting the hunger demands of the growing population is a critical challenge that humanity is facing.

Despite the seemingly perilous trajectory society is on, many farmers, scientists and researchers are confident that the Earth will have more than enough resources to feed every single person by 2050. Read below for six strategies that could help the Earth provide enough food for 9 billion people:

1) Vertical farming


Credit: Flickr

Fresh fruits and vegetables can be grown in buildings with climate-controlled rooms that can feed and water the growing plants. They require minimal area on the ground due to their tall heights and can be built anywhere in the world. The surrounding community benefits by paying cheaper prices since transportation costs are reduced and can enjoy products year-round without being restricted to what is in-season. The biggest vertical farm in the world was built in an abandoned factory in Newark, New Jersey and it’s impressive features include: the use of aeroponic misting technology removes the need for sunlight, soil, or pesticides, 95 per cent less water is used compared to open yield farms, and yields are 75 times bigger per square foot.

2) Biochemical bacteria sensors to indicate food spoilage


Credit: UglyFruitandVeg.org

The world has a serious problem with wasting food – approximately 1.4 billion tons of food is wasted globally, which is enough to feed as many as 2 billion people for an entire year. Purchasing behaviours of consumers contribute to food waste in supermarkets because of the desire to pick out the most visually appealing produce, over-purchasing, and confusing best before dates. Scientists are working on creating low-cost sensors that can monitor bacteria growth and contaminants that indicate spoilage in produce, meat, and dairy so consumers won’t have to guess or rely on visual changes in the product to know if their food is safe to eat. Rolling out this technology to large-scale supermarket chains would save consumers and companies money, guarantee high-quality products, and prevent healthy food from being thrown away.

3) Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

If food waste and current world hunger statistics fail to evoke outcry and ethical debates, mentions of GMO’s certainly will. The pros and cons of GMOs are intensely debated – the potential and unknown health risks, greedy corporations disproportionately profiting, and potential to out-compete unmodified plants contends with arguments that GMOs can alleviate critical nutrient deficiencies in developing countries, improve reliability of crops for poor farmers, and that most crops have already been genetically modified in some way from centuries of selective breeding.


Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Over 97 per cent of population growth will occur in developing countrieswhere nutrient deficiencies are a major health burden and urgently need to be addressed as malnutrition is the most important risk factor for illness and death in the world. An initiative by the Rockefeller Foundation created genetically modified ‘Golden Rice‘,which is rice that is fortified with beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, and the patented technologies were made free for all humanitarian purposes. Vitamin A deficiency affects more than 140 million preschool children in 118 countries, is the leading cause of childhood blindness in the developing world, and increases vulnerability to respiratory infections and diarrhea, which often causes death. Golden Rice was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May 2018 and is an example of how some humanitarian organizations could use GMOs as a solution for the world’s growing hunger crisis.

4) Grow meat in labs

The global trend growing meat consumption is troubling for producers, consumers, and the environment. Emissions from the beef industry make up 6 per cent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and if the current mix of crop uses was used to exclusively grow food for human consumption, instead of feeding cattle or making biofuels, an additional 4 billion people could be fed.

A solution to meeting the beef demand without actual cows might have a surprisingly simple solution – grow it in a lab. Scientists are able to extract stem cells from cattle to grow them into full portion servings in petri dishes and has been accomplished by several in vitro meat companies, such as Memphis Meats which received a $17 million USD investment from Bill Gates and Richard Branson. These companies assure that their products are healthy and even tastier than conventional meat options, and growing meat in a lab instead of on farm reduces greenhouse gas emissions up to 96 per cent and uses 99 per cent less land.

5) Use technology to manage declining growing conditions

Warming temperatures will dramatically change global food production – Canada and Brazil will benefit in marginally increased production yields whereas majority of countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia will see devastating consequences. Aside from large-scale food shortages in international food chains, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that smallholder and subsistence farmers will suffer complex and local impacts, and could result in entire regions being left with land that is no longer able to grow crops.


Credit: NASA

Climate change presents the challenges of drought, extreme weather events, and rising temperatures all over the world, and innovative technologies could be used to maintain productive growing seasons. Liquid NanoClay is a technology that consists of spraying clay nanoparticles into soil, which binds with water molecules and creates a layer of saturated soil that can increase the soil’s water retention by 65 per cent and reduces the need for irrigation. Water sources are critical for food production and scientists have created a device that can pull water vapour out of the atmosphere by using metal-organic frameworks and can convert it into a liquid state, even in low-humidity conditions. If global carbon emissions are not curbed, using technology to control environmental systems could help buffer climate change consequences in agriculturally productive areas.

6) Overcome cultural taboos and eat new foods

Changes in food supply will mean a change in what we put on our plates and that could have us venturing into unfamiliar food groups. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) promotes insects including beetles, wasps, and caterpillars as an unexplored nutrition source that is rich in nutrients and a environmentally-friendly source of animal protein. These insects can be eaten as a powder, paste, or whole and President’s Choice 100% Cricket Powdercurrently has an impressive four star rating online.


Fried crickets and tarantula on a market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

While insects are typically uncommon in Western cuisine they are included in the diets of over two billion people in the world and have historically been included in some Asian, African, and Latin American cuisines, and even considered delicacies in some regions.

Production issues are not the causes of global hunger

Global food production and consumption are highly complex problems that involve many layers of politics, the economy, and environment, and cannot be addressed with one or two potential solutions. If you take all the food on the planet and divide it by all of the people on the planet, there is more than enough food to feed everyone – each person would get 2700 calories and 75g of protein per day. If we have enough food, why is global hunger blamed on the food supply?

Food waste, using crops to burn biofuels and feed cattle, dietary choices, the lack of social and ecological integrity in economic systems, and growing inequality all contributes to global hunger. Until global poverty and inequality issues are resolved and food production strategies other than industrial agriculture implemented, alternative solutions to feeding the world’s booming population must be developed to prevent the world hunger crisis from worsening.

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57 Comments on "How will Earth feed 9 billion people by 2050?"

  1. Makati1 on Sun, 24th Jun 2018 6:56 pm 

    Look in the mirror Davy. You are the biggest blowhard waster of space here. Hypocrite!

  2. JuanP on Sun, 24th Jun 2018 7:51 pm 

    Delusional Davy “My kids run with me.”

    I can’t help but wonder when. The twins are what, eight?

  3. Boney Joe on Sun, 24th Jun 2018 11:31 pm 

    “We have no evidence of higher intelligence or conscious life elsewhere….”

    ~~~DavyTurd~~~

    We have a treasure of government documents, whistleblowers, thousands of physical trace cases, many radar visual cases.

    The evidence is overwhelming that Planet Earth is being visited by intelligently controlled extraterrestrial spacecraft.

    The subject of flying saucers represents a kind of Cosmic Watergate, meaning that some few people in major governments have known since July, 1947, when two crashed saucers and several alien bodies were recovered in New Mexico, that indeed SOME UFOs are ET. As noted in 1950, it’s the most classified U.S. topic.

    The Flying Saucer story is the biggest story of the millennium: visits to Planet Earth by aliens and the U.S. government’s cover-up of the best data (the bodies and wreckage) for over fifty years.

    I can guarantee that DDT has never read a single word from any of the scientific studies done on the subject- ignorance of the data. Translation: Don’t bother me with facts, my mind is already made up.

  4. DerHundistLos on Sun, 24th Jun 2018 11:46 pm 

    “We have no evidence of higher intelligence or conscious life elsewhere….”

    ~~~Davy~~~

    We have a treasure of government documents, whistleblowers, thousands of physical trace cases, many radar visual cases-the preponderance of evidence is overwhelming-that Planet Earth is being visited by intelligently controlled extraterrestrial spacecraft.

    The subject of flying saucers represents a kind of Cosmic Watergate, meaning that some few people in major governments have known since July, 1947, when two crashed saucers and several alien bodies were recovered in New Mexico, that indeed SOME UFOs are ET. As noted in 1950, it’s the most classified U.S. topic.

    The Flying Saucer story is the biggest story of the millennium: visits to Planet Earth by aliens and the U.S. government’s cover-up of the best data (the bodies and wreckage) for over fifty years.

    Have you examined any of the scientific studies done on the subject? Translation: Don’t bother me with facts, my mind is already made up.

    Here’s an interesting case that I remember quite well. The YouTube video is a compilation of news reports by KTVI in St. Louis titled, “Elsberry, Missouri Cattle Mutilations/UFOs (1978)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1s8tyWDrAQ

  5. CAM on Mon, 25th Jun 2018 7:28 am 

    Actually, we have no evidence of intelligent life anywhere!

  6. Antius on Mon, 25th Jun 2018 9:19 am 

    How will the world feed 9billion people? The question assumes that it is a foregone conclusion that it will. Assuming that it does, some approximate data on food productivity from the site below gives a few clues.
    https://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Calories_per_acre_for_various_foods/

    Potatoes and corn give the most calories per acre. To provide 2000cal per day using potatoes for 9billion people would require some 369million acres planted with potatoes. That’s 1.5million km2 planted. According to wiki, the world had some 13.958million square km of arable crop land in 2012.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arable_land

    Strictly speaking, 9billion people could obtain a sparse but adequate diet using not much more than 10% of the Earth’s cropland, if the bulk of their diet was potatoes. It won’t happen of course. It would be foolish to rely so exclusively on a single crop, no matter how productive, as the Irish can attest. Also, people will insist on doing stupid things, like crowing corn and feeding it to cattle. But in a sane world, there is no reason to assume that arable farming cannot grow sufficient food for 9billion people. If you want to save the planet, eat a diet that is heavy on potatoes and corn and low on meat.

    Interestingly, in terms of calories per acre, pork is better than soybeans. Chew on that on, you vegetarian scum.

  7. Antius on Mon, 25th Jun 2018 10:00 am 

    Vertical farms rest on the assumption that food crops can be grown under synthetic light. That would be unachievably expensive for most of humanity, unless we find a cheap electricity source. If we could, then growing under artificial light would be very space and volume efficient. But the cost of power is a killer.

    Crop plants are up to 2% efficient at fixing sunlight into food under natural light, with the upper limit being held by C4 plants like corn. However, only about half of sunlight energy is available for absorption to support photosynthesis and only about 75% of what is absorbed is used, due to wavelength mismatch. So, with lighting providing optimal wavelengths, corn might be 6% efficient at fixing sunlight into sugar. By growing in nutrient rich solutions that minimise the need for root growth, we might ultimately manage 10% efficiency.

    How efficient are LEDs? It is difficult to gauge from the literature, because the lumen is not just a measure of radiant intensity, but it account for the ability of the human eye to perceive the light. Estimates that I can find on the web, put efficiency of red bulbs at around 50%. I will assume 50%.

    So, under artificial lighting, efficient food crops should be able to convert electric power into calories with 5% efficiency. The average human needs about 10MJ of food energy per day. So feeding someone from a vertical farm would burn up a minimum of 200MJ of electric power per day, 73GJ (20,300kWh) per year. How much would that cost? If power is selling for $0.1/kWh, the electricity alone would cost $2030 per person per year ($5.6 per day). That is before the cost of labour, water, capital, mineral nutrients, etc. Assume that they push it up to $10 per day, for a minimum diet based on corn.

    It might be barely doable for first world urban people, prepared to accept a sparse diet. But what would be the point? If the idea is to grow food using electric power from renewable energy sources, then your solar panels would cover about the same area as the crop land they displace. This only provides any advantage if power comes from a compact nuclear power source. And it remains questionable whether the costs are affordable for most of humanity.

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