Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone
In the April 2012 issue of Trends,1 we highlighted the breakthroughs in agriculture and food processing that are emerging to supply the world’s growing demand for food. This month, we’re focusing on the factors driving the dramatic change in the quantity and quality of that demand, and their implications.
To get an appreciation of what’s ahead, consider this: By 2060, it is estimated that the world’s 9.1 billion people will demand at least 70 percent more food than today’s 7 billion.2 Between now and then, it’s estimated that the world will consume more food than has been consumed since the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago.
This demand won’t only be due to an expanding global population. If trends hold, increased demand will also come from an increase in food consumption per person, per day. Figures from 1966 show this global per-capita consumption at 2,358 calories per day. For industrialized nations, the number was 2,947 calories. By 1999, the global number had risen to 2,803 calories per day, and the industrial number had risen to 3,380. Projections put the global average at 3,050 calories per day by the year 2030, with the industrialized average climbing to 3,500 calories.
Two countries that will particularly influence demand for food will be China and India, due mainly to the sheer size of their populations.3 Combined, they represent one-third of the world’s population. Though lagging behind industrial nations in per-capita calorie intake, both are on the rise. In East Asia in 1966, daily intake was 1,957 calories. By 1999, it had grown to 2,921 calories. Predicted intake by 2030 is 3,190 calories. Multiplying these increases over billions of people will have a substantial effect.
Experts predict that the Chinese population will grow and reach its maximum by 2030, after which it will decline. During this time, as China becomes more industrialized, its nutritional demands will likely shift to foods that require more water to produce, such as beef.4 This will stress China’s already scarce water resources, which in turn will undoubtedly force China to become a net importer of certain foods.
Evolving food consumption in India is also expected to place new demands on global food supplies. From 1994 to 2000, per-capita consumption of cereals dropped slightly, while meat, egg, and fish consumption saw an increase of about 20 percent. During this same time period, milk and milk products showed a substantial increase of around 44 percent.
Other global population trends that will affect the nature of food demand in the future include the growth of mega-cities with populations of 30 million to 40 million people. By 2060, urbanization will mean that the world’s cities will cumulatively cover an area the size of China. It is estimated that half of the world’s available fresh water will be used by these urban dwellers, and the food and nutrients they discard will be enough to feed 5 billion people.
The nutritional demands of the growing and changing populations will create shifts in the types of foods that are consumed. As a result, some experts believe that by 2060 as many as 10 billion people will desire a better diet. It that case, it is likely that total demand for food will have doubled from present levels.
But it won’t be just the population growth and changing tastes that will alter our diets. There will be additional factors. One of the biggest will be the scarcity of the resources needed for food production, including:
- Water - Arable land - Petroleum - Petrochemicals - Fertilizers
This scarcity of resources is likely to make conventional methods of growing food more difficult, costly, and unsustainable. Therefore, alternative foods and methods will be developed.
Some analysts also expect to see a shift in our diets in reaction to a growing realization that our highly refined, highly processed food is causing deadly diseases, such as diabetes, coronary disease, and stroke. Today, those maladies account for nearly half of all deaths across the world.
If we could see the food the world will consume in 2112, it would be as unfamiliar to us as our current cosmopolitan diet of fast food and ethnic fare would be to people from 1912. The food in 50 and 100 years will be much more diverse, interesting, healthy, resource-efficient, and creative.
Our current diet consists of a narrow band of the options available. While we generally only eat food derived from a few dozen different plants, agricultural scientists have compiled a database of 25,000 different edible plant species. We have also limited consumption of animals to about a dozen types.
Because many vegetables use far less soil, water, energy, carbon, and fertilizer to produce than grains or meats, it is inevitable that they will become a greater portion of our future diet. Additionally, much of our future food may be factory grown, with novel, barely imagined foods being the result.
In light of this trend, please consider the following forecasts:
First, the growing and shifting demand for food, coupled with limited traditional production capacity, means that new, creative approaches to meeting demand will be needed.5
Take fish, for example. It is already becoming clear that most of the fish the world’s population will consume will need to be raised in farms rather than caught in the wild. This trend became apparent when the ocean fish catch peaked in 2004. Rising food demands will merely accelerate this need. The fact that fish are nutritional and convert feed into meat at double the rate of large land animals means fish farming will grow quickly to meet rising demands for protein. This will lead to an explosion of choices in fish, as well as crustaceans, shellfish, urchins, jellyfish, seaweeds, and many other unfamiliar aquatic foods. Also, what may seem hard to imagine to Westerners will be the increased use of insects, both land and aquatic, as an easy, reliable new food source. Already, about 1,400 species of insects make up parts of the human diet worldwide. Their advantages include being low in fat and high in calcium and iron.
Second, the growing global demand for food and diminishing resources will cause a shift in thinking about how farming needs to be done.
The foods that are produced, and how they are produced, will both evolve. By the end of the century, it is likely most food production will be evenly divided between modern eco-farms, both organic and high-tech, and new industrial and urban systems. The scarcity of the resources needed to produce food on farms as we know them today, along with the very high skills required to do so sustainably, will result in farmed food being much more expensive. Robotics will be leveraged to produce the next phase of the precision agriculture revolution.
Third, algae farms will become another major source of food for both people and animals.
A clever input for these farms would be CO2 from fossil fuel power stations. Algae also have the ability to be grown in tanks, vessels, or ponds constructed on waste land as well as on rooftops. Large floating containers can also be stationed in the oceans so algae farms don’t compete with land agriculture or wilderness. Because algae are just microscopic water plants, delicious and healthy foods can be derived from them, just as we get food products from wheat, rice, or any other crop. As a side benefit, algae farms will also have the ability to produce bio-fuels for transport, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and fine chemicals.
Fourth, one not-so-futuristic source of food will be “in vitro” or “cultured” meat.
European and Japanese scientists have been working toward developing it, having successfully produced the world’s first synthetic sausage last year. Artificial or cultured meat begins as animal stem cells that are grown in a glass dish. The right nutrients cause them to become muscle cells. The primary advantage of cultured meat is that it requires much less soil, water, fertilizer, and carbon to produce than does conventional meat ? and it produces dramatically less environmental contamination. It’s also easier to keep cultured meat free from germs, antibiotics, and hormones that are almost impossible to eliminate in traditional ranching and meat processing.
Fifth, so-called “bio-cultures” will be yet another source of food that will help meet the rising food demand.
Currently, cell culture methods are being used in medical research, but they will soon find their way out of the lab to create major sources of healthy food. Delectable and very nutritious foods will be cultured in large steel vessels using cells from plants, animals, fungi, and microbes.
Sixth, the specific dietary needs of individual consumers will be designed into novel foods.
These foods will protect against heart disease, diabetes, or cancer based on a genetic analysis of each person’s individual risk. When people who are critical of engineered or “factory foods” learn that eating them will add 10 to 20 years to their lives, they will reconsider their position. These new foods will include more nutritious grains and vegetables, faster-growing animals and fish, and climate-adapted strains of crops. Agribusiness companies will be judged on their abilities to develop novel foods that provide real disease prevention.
Seventh, new industries and jobs will emerge to meet the growing and diverse food demand.
The untapped diversity of edible plants alone has the potential to create whole new industries and related jobs. These jobs will be welcome for the billion or so workers who will be displaced from traditional agriculture in the years ahead as the supply chain becomes more concentrated with giant supermarkets and food firms.
Eighth, the rise of mega-cities with their voracious food demand is also ushering in a new era of urban farming that promises to bring food production closer to consumers.
Rising transportation costs, coupled with more productive plants designed for small-scale farming, will make it practical for food to be grown in small backyards, on balconies, and in public vegetable gardens. Some experts even believe that by the end of the century, skyscrapers will integrate hydroponic methods for producing vegetables, fruits, and fish.
References List :
1. Trends, April 2012, "The New Food Revolution." ⓒ Copyright 2012 by AudioTech Business Book Summaries, Inc. All rights reserved. http://www.audiotech.com 2. For more information about increases in food consumption and demand by 2050, visit the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website at: http://www.fao.org 3. For information about demand for food in India, download the "Transition in Food Consumption Patterns" by the Ministry of Women & Child Development for the Government of India at: http://www.docstoc.com 4. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, March 2008, "Food Consumption Patterns and Their Effect on Water Requirement in China," by J. Liu and H.H.G. Savenije. ⓒ Copyright 2008 by J. Liu and H.H.G. Savenije. All rights reserved. http://www.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net 5. The Canberra Times, March 16, 2012, "Huge Shift in What We Eat," by Julian Cribb. ⓒ Copyright 2012 by Fairfax Media. All rights reserved. http://www.canberratimes.com.au