The Environmental Food Crisis


The world food production has increased substantially in the past century, as has calorie intake per capita. However, in spite of a decrease in the proportion of undernourished people, the absolute number has in fact increased during the current food crisis, to over 963 million. By 2050, population growth by an estimated 3 billion more people will in- crease food demand. Increased fertilizer application and more water usage through irrigation have been re- sponsible for over 70% of the crop yield increase in the past. Yields, however, have nearly stabilized for cereals, partly as a result of low and declining investments in agriculture. In addition, fisheries landings have declined in the past decade mainly as a result of over- fishing and unsustainable fishing methods. Food supply, however, is not only a function of production, but also of energy efficiency. Food energy efficiency is our ability to minimize the loss of energy in food from harvest potential through processing to actual consumption and recycling. By optimizing this chain, food supply can increase with much less damage to the environment, similar to improvements in efficiency in the traditional energy sector. However, unlike the tradi- tional energy sector, food energy efficiency has received little attention. Only an estimat- ed 43% of the cereal produced is available for human consumption, as a result of harvest and post-harvest distribution losses and use of cereal for animal feed. Furthermore, the 30 million tonnes of fish needed to sustain the growth in aquaculture correspond to the amount of fish discarded at sea today. A substantial share of the increasing food demand could be met by introducing food en- ergy efficiency, such as recycling of waste. With new technology, waste along the human food supply chain could be used as a substitute for cereal in animal feed. The available ce- real from such alternatives and efficiencies could feed all of the additional 3 billion people expected by 2050. At the same time, this would support a growing green economy and greatly reduce pressures on biodiversity and water resources – a truly ‘win-win’ solution.


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