Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sustainable intensification

David Evans, is the Head of Agriculture for Wm Morrison Supermarket in the UK and the author of a study study to provide food to people in every society across the planet and provide continuous access to food. He explains that the solutions will be as much global as they will be local.

The FAO’s definition of food security is one in which “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”, he has illustrated the challenges of achieving food security for the United Nations’ median estimate for the human population of nine billion in 2050 and 10.5 billion by 2100. The situation is made more challenging by the fact that the growth is not evenly spread across all countries; while little expansion or even contraction is expected in developed countries, the highest rates of growth are forecast in countries such as Nigeria and India. Furthermore, there is a strong trend of movement from rural areas to the cities, Evans said, so that, by 2050, 70 per cent of the global population will live in urban areas – where infra-structure, the provision of services and adequate earnings are by no means guaranteed.

A megacity, as defined by the United Nations, has a population of 10 million or more people. In 1990, there were just 10 of these conurbations in the world, rising to 28 in 2014 and there are forecast to be 41 such habitations by 2050, many of them in west Africa, south Asia and south-east China. So the areas of the planet that will require food to be delivered and those where food is produced are likely to diverge even further than they are today. As the urban areas spread, it will become increasingly difficult to supply the megacity’s population with food from local sources. And the quantities of food calculated by Evans to be required by an Asian megacity of 20 million people, for example, are mind-blowing. Assuming an average daily consumption of 2.5kg of food per person, 50,000 tonnes or 3,300 fully loaded articulated trucks would have to enter the city every single day. And while much of the chicken and pork requirements could be produced locally, 25,000 tonnes of feed would require transportation into the area every week to support this production, he estimates.

Food systems and food supply systems will need to change radically to meet these needs, Evans contends. A simple food supply chain begins with primary production (for example, on the farm) and may go through a number of stages of primary, secondary and tertiary processing before distribution and finally, delivery to the consumer outlet, be that a local street market or supermarket. Food systems, on the other hand, cover the internal and external factors that influence the delivery of food to the population, and include such diverse elements as employment, food safety, land ownership, ethics and environment – in other words, all those factors meeting the needs of society generally.

A new era of food production needs to start with making basic nutrition available to all, say 2,700 kcal per day for 10 billion people. Making the food system sustainable will mean considering then food safety and nutrition, food supply and economic viability and finally, the responsible use of the planet’s resources. For the food supply chain, it means the application of co-operative economics, by which the individual parts of the supply chain interact with one another to optimise efficiency. Examples of co-operative economics include group purchasing of inputs, shared skilled human resource functions, shared equipment and facilities and group marketing of outputs. All this points to the need for large-scale efficient food systems – a concept known as sustainable intensification – that is the most likely solution to our future food supply, Evans said, adding that key focus for future innovations in the food systems will need to be on addressing concerns regarding the protection of the environment and scarce resources as well as the ethics around food production.

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