It is no secret that if projections are correct, the human population of Earth is set to top 10bn by 2050.
When you consider that when Sir David Attenborough was born in 1926 there were only 2bn human inhabitants on planet Earth; not only does this pose the question, where have they all come from, but more importantly, how can planet Earth sustainably feed them all?
With diet poverty still showing a distinct imbalance globally, with some developing nations still struggling to eat a balanced diet, some areas still being malnourished & by stark contrast many nations being so over fed, they throw away an estimated 1.3bn tonnes of food each year; the way we produce & supply food is going to have to change dramatically.
The 2019 IPCC report Climate Change & Land identified that an estimated 23% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (2007-2016) derive from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). (1)
Furthermore, the report also identified that ‘land use change and rapid land use intensification have supported the increasing production of food, feed and fibre. Since 1961, the total production of food (cereal crops) has increased by 240% (until 2017) because of land area expansion and increasing yields. Fibre production (cotton) increased by 162% (until 2013)’ (1)
These figures are staggering & of great concern when considering the food consumption requirements of a population which just seems to continue growing.
However, despite the very bleak vision of an ever over populated planet, there are many Governments, entrepreneurs, Scientists & Policy Makers who are already putting alternative food production innovations in to action.
InnovateUK & the UK Government are actively supporting innovations in Agri-Tech; agricultural solutions to using less nitrogen fertilisers, fewer chemicals & being ever mindful of ways in which to reduce GHG’s. Since 2015, InnovateUK has invested almost £90 million of government funds in four Centres for Agricultural Innovation (Agri-Tech centres). Two of these centres are Agri-EPI & CHAP – Crop Health & Protection. (2)
The Agri-EPI Centre focuses on the delivery of research, development, demonstration and training on precision agriculture and engineering for the livestock, arable, horticulture and aquaculture sectors. (3)
One of the projects funded by Agri-EPI & Innovate UK is the SmartFarm project in China.
The SmartFarm initiative focuses on a holistic & systematic approach to understanding the processes behind food production & using technologies to gain more knowledge & create a suitable intervention programme.
‘The Philosophy brings long-term purpose, and environmental stewardship to the entire agri-food system. The SmartFarm can hence potentially transform the food production in future, enabled by smart technologies for increased yields, reduced usage of chemicals and improved food quality.’ (4)
The second of the four Agri-Tech centres funded by InnovateUK, is CHAP – Crop, Health & Production.
CHAP’s objective is to bring together scientists, farmers, advisors, innovators & businesses to increase crop productivity for future generations through the uptake of new technologies. (5)
One of the many different forms of forward thinking agriculture & farming to be rolled out, is the concept of vertical farming. Vertical farming enables technologies such as hydroponics & UV lighting to enable crops such as leafy vegetables, salad & herbs to be grown often underground, often using brown field sites & always by growing vertically.
Vertical farming enables crops to be grown in a controlled environment, where they can receive just the right amount of heat, light, water & nutrients, & can be harvested when they are in peak condition. Using hydroponics means farmers do not need to use soil to grow their crops, much less water is used & can be recycled many times & can increase crop yields by up to 500% per unit land area compared to more traditional farming.
One British company thriving in the vertical farming industry are Shockingly Fresh.
Based in Edinburgh, Shockingly Fresh are currently developing five sites, with plans afoot to build dozens of indoor vertical farms. Increased yields from the farms could help British growers boost crop production & reduce the UK’s reliance on costly off-season imports from the EU.(6)
Another sustainable food production industry on the rise, is insect farming. Many cultures around the world already have a high proportion of insects in their diets & they form a large part of their protein & dietary fibre intake.
‘Around 2bn people regularly eat insects as part of their diet. They’re a highly sustainable food source and, with some insects as much as 80% protein, an ideal protein source. Insects are cheaper, easier and greener to cultivate than livestock, and can be grown quickly in only a little space.’ (7)
One British company shaking up the insect snack market are Crunchy Critters.
Crunchy Critters (8) have been importing food grade insects into the UK since 2011 & currently provide snack pouches with a combination of mealworms, crickets & locusts. More recently they have chosen to combine their insect choices with additions such as seeds, chocolate or trail mix.
With an ever-increasing world population, current farming practices are simply unsustainable – alternative sources of protein are essential for the very survival of both humans and the planet. In addition to their impressive nutritional profile – high in protein, healthy fats and dietary fibre as well as rich in vitamins and minerals – insects emit fewer greenhouse gases and require less land and water to produce than cattle making them an ideal food of the future. (8)
The need for insects to become part of global food productions, goes one step further with animal feed companies also looking into the options of using in particular Black soldier Flies as an alternative.
British company Entocycle identify that insects form a natural protein source for animals such as pigs, chicken & fish.
Entocycle, currently farming Black Soldier Flies for animal feed inside historic railway arches close to London’s Tower Bridge; are therefore using natures processes & innovative technologies to farm sustainable protein at scale & are currently supplying to the fisheries industries as an alternative to traditional soy based feeds. (9)
Using local food waste such as ejected supermarket fruit & vegetables, brewer’s grains & coffee grounds as a food source for the Black Soldier Fly larvae; Entocycle identify that the Black Soldier Fly are the ultimate up-cycle machine & are determined to see the farming of insects as an alternative to intensive farming methods, return the land used for intensive farming back to the wild & in doing so restoring Earth’s natural resources.
The human need for alternative food production to ensure global farming methods are changed to protect dwindling biodiversity; goes hand in hand with the human need to dramatically reduce GHG’s, carbon emissions & halt deforestation. Therefore, it is refreshing to see that innovations to alter perceptions of intensive farming & discover the options offered by agri-tech are refreshing & it is reassuring to see so many UK businesses & strategies being used to bring this to the fore.
Written by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2.