There are Food, Ecology and Diet problems everywhere.
Food security is fragile, biodiversity is in trouble, and we are all eating the wrong food. The global demand for calories grows as we waste a third of the food produced. High risk, just-in-time supply chains traverse continents and are a border closure away from collapse. Everywhere this can’t be done, that can’t, and before we know it, there are more problems than there are people.
At sustainably FED, we don’t think this is true.
Humans have been growing food for 12,000 years and, with the help of fossil fuels, generated colossal production for the last 150 of them. That is plenty of time to figure out how to do it.
We don’t believe the situation is so dire. There are thousands of solutions figured out already, plus more human brainpower than at any other time in history.
A big help toward the challenge of feeding everyone well is to source the best food production, ecology and diet ideas, understand them, and find where they work.
There is a process, though. Filtering and testing to find the best ideas are essential.
What makes a good FED idea?
Ideas that feed people well must be
- easy to describe
- assessable for risk
- readily costed
- acceptable to users
- deliver returns
Costs need to work at scale and offer returns on investment. If the finance stacks up, users must accept the idea. Wastewater is recycled in London many times over, but Sydneysiders will not even consider drinking recycled water. There is nothing worse than building it, and they will come when they don’t.
None of these criteria is easy. They need a great deal of passion and a process to deliver on them.
Should an idea meets these pragmatic criteria, it might succeed in the real world.
Innovations for efficient water use are essential for food production in dry regions like this one in South Africa.
Up against history and reality
Innovations are also up against history.
A farmer understands what was done in the past to make a dollar or feed the family.
Humans are imaginative problem solvers and innately conservative. This contradiction is a massive part of our success. The future is unknown, as is what to do in the future to make a dollar. It is much harder to take on an innovation that may work tomorrow if there is no evidence of it having worked in the past. People are wary.
There are also significant structural constraints. We already have 7.8 billion people to feed with a demand of 22 trillion kilocalories per day.
Maintaining current food production systems is essential to keep feeding the people already here. We need to improve production systems to meet demand growth and supply people with better quality food.
Nigeria, for example, with 215 million people in 2022, is forecast to reach 400 million people by 2050. Today it needs 516 billion kilocalories a day to feed the people and must double that volume in 30 years. Any change to the food system cannot ignore the immediate demand, or that food demand will double in a generation.
Then there is the change in the diet of those already here. As wealth improves, so does the desire for nutrient-rich foods, especially animal protein.
Check out the success story of the staggering growth in pork consumption across China.
The FAO recommended minimum per capita daily protein intake is 53.8g. In Nigeria, it is 45.4g, some 30% below the global average of 64g and below dietary recommendations. Such a societal problem, especially for children, builds noise to raise protein intake.
In short, FED solutions cannot replace food production systems but must modify them to be more efficient and effective.
Innovations are up against the real world.
Food, ecology and diet
The current food production systems need to persist. Still, humanity also needs new ones to provide nutrients to people without further degrading the natural resource base.
At sustainably FED, we believe this will happen through an understanding of ecology, the processes by which plants and animals interact with each other and the soil and the environment to produce and reproduce, more making as we call it.
Ecological principles allow us to understand the limits of innovations and the ideas that might work. For instance, making burgers from algae is not just a marketing problem. There has to be a reliable source of nitrogen to fuel the algae.
And the ecological understanding must stretch to humans too.
Diets are not ideal. Already there is malnutrition in at least a third of the global population. Undernutrition affects people who are short of food and unable to get the appropriate level of nutrients and energy from day to day. Then there are the people who have more than enough food but of the wrong type giving them health issues, typically obesity-related problems.
Diet changes present a great opportunity to feed everyone well.
Perhaps the best ideas will come from the interactions between food, ecology and diet. For example, to shorten or make more efficient supply chains.
Ecology applies even when the crop is indoors.
Do you have a FED idea?
The sustainably FED team believes the kernels of global food security solutions already exist, although few are mainstream ideas. Our after-before system of counterfactual analysis has fallen on deaf ears. Maybe we talked about it too technically or there is a timing issue. Ideas have their moment, so knowing when this is matters.
Sustainably FED would like to help you generate and prosper from your ideas.
Our role is to provide some foundation material that can build capability and find opportunities. Spending some time on this website and with our eCourses should help you solve local and global food, ecology, and diet problems.
‘Me’, you say, ‘why me?’
Well, everyone has ideas. Many are good, great even, but never see the daylight.
So what to do?
What sustainably FED suggests…
Devote some time to understanding the scale, intensity and immediacy of the issues that we talk about in sustainably FED. Awareness of the scale and urgency of feeding everyone well will help you see the challenges and what sorts of solutions might work.
Then become aware of the ecology of food because ecological knowledge is the foundation of agriculture and diet. Ecological principles will be at the heart of future food security.
Next is to gain the skills to evaluate evidence. Evidence is critical to the evaluation of any innovation. Empirical evidence can test an idea and decide if it is economical and socially acceptable. For example, a new irrigation system may work beautifully for the plant, but if it doesn’t pass muster with the landholder, it fails.
We also suggest becoming familiar with the evidence, how it’s gathered, and how it is assessed. Sustainably FED has eCourses and online modules to help you with that.
Finally, we suggest being bold and looking long.
Food production and diet problems are with us for decades to come. Solutions are needed everywhere. This is a terrific opportunity to create new businesses and make a difference for future generations.
So if you want to save the koala or feed the hungry or both, sustainably FED can help your ideas grow.
You never know where it might take you.
Hero image from photo by Flash Dantz on Unsplash