dairy cow grazing on pasture

What makes for great food security solutions

Food security solutions are within our grasp, and many ideas are just waiting for their chance.

Great food security solutions are easy to describe, assessable for risk, readily cost, acceptable to users, scalable, and deliver returns in food and finance. Whilst this list may appear onerous, solutions exist, and we need them because humanity is up against trying to feed 8 billion people well. 

The rhetoric is starting to sound stuck. 

Here is what it sounds like.

  • The complex six-continent food supply chain and close to 500 million subsistence farmers are struggling to provide sustainable food
  • 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. The short version of the pessimism is that food security is fragile, biodiversity is in trouble, and we are all eating the wrong food

At sustainably FED, we unpack many of these challenges to raise awareness, but food security doesn’t need to be on the doom scroll. 

Pay attention to what makes for great food security solutions, and there is plenty of upside.

  • 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 know how crops are grown and livestock reared. 
  • We know what happens to the soil when agriculture is intensified.
  • We also know how to restore degraded soil with cover crops, minimum tillage and careful use of fertilisers. 
  • There is more human brainpower than at any other time in history—we even have AI to assist with the tricky computation and prediction

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. So here is our initial list of filters that ideas must pass through to become food security solutions.

What makes a good food security solution?

Ideas that can sustainably feed people well must be 

  • easy to describe
  • assessable for risk
  • readily costed
  • acceptable to users
  • scalable
  • deliver returns

Easy to describe

The best ideas for sustainable food and sustainable diets are easy to grasp. 

Whilst it might need some heavy science to explain the mechanisms of nutrient exchange between soil carbon and plant roots or the intricacies of soil water availability as a crop matures, the basic premise should be clear to all.

Don’t leave soil bare between cropping cycles because bare soil dries out and blows across to the neighbour’s field.

Closeup of a young wheat crop next to a corn crop in a field with little bare soil

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

Assessable for risk

Farmers are risk averse for good reason. 

When your livelihood rests on a crop or livestock reaching maturity before the bank calls in the loan for fertiliser, you need to know the risk of failure. No farmer can know if there will be a late frost or a hail storm a week before harvest, but he will know that these are tangible risks to future food production and is aware of the punt he must take.

A good food security solution is assessable for risks, ideally with quantifiable probabilities of success and failure. But if the probabilities are elusive, at least the production and financial risks must be tangible.

Dairy cows grazing on pasture

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Unsplash

Readily costed

Intensive agriculture is a numbers game.

Farmers need to know inputs down to the kilo of urea and gallon of diesel. They need to know how much of each input to add, how, and how long it will take. They do this to get a handle on the balance between the risk of failure and the best possible yield. 

Any new food security solution has to fit with the numbers, and for that, it must be costed for time and resources. It also helps if the intangible emotional costs of production are known.

Larger tractor with a fertiliser spreader attachment as part of food security solutions

Photo by Mirko Fabian on Unsplash

Acceptable to users

Great solutions remain as ideas unless they are acceptable to farmers, dealers along the supply chain and consumers. Easy to state but hard to achieve because there are many values, opinions and needs represented along the journey food makes from paddock to plate. 

At the producer’s end, the farmer needs reliable, recognisable solutions that improve yield and profitability. At the destination, the consumer wants healthy, affordable food from a predictable source that doesn’t spoil in the fridge.

And if it were just these two, an alignment is tangible. 

But there are food processors, transporters, and retailers along the chain all looking for a clip. At least some of the solutions have to take these stakeholders into account, for they are going to provide food to the 4 billion plus people who live in urban areas and cannot grow their own food.

And then there is the emotional acceptance. Wastewater is recycled in London many times over, but Sydneysiders will not even consider drinking recycled water. 

There is nothing worse than ‘build it, and they will come’ when they don’t.

biscuit aisle in an Australian supermarket

Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash


All the best food security solutions will work on a field, a farm and a district.

When Adolf Hilter began his pursuit of megalomania in 1939, the UK was importing 60% of its food, which amounted to around 55 million tonnes a year. The British could not feed themselves. 

 Just five years later, thanks to a wartime agricultural revolution involving mechanisation, the Women’s Land Army, and new agricultural land conversions, farms were producing 90% more wheat, 87% more potatoes and 45% more vegetables than they were before the war. Combined with rationing, Victory Gardens and some belt-tightening—people lost weight during the war years—the British public made it through.

What this anecdote tells us is that most ideas can be scalable. For example, it is possible to make cover cropping happen everywhere and have bare soil for only a few weeks a year.

Deliver returns

Costs need to work at scale and combine with market prices to offer returns on investment. And if the finance stacks up, users accept the idea because profit drives the six-continent food supply chain.

However, this is not ideal.

Profit is often the enemy of sustainability, especially when returns on money grow faster than returns on products. Don’t forget as the fossil resource wanes, input costs for agriculture go up to squeeze profit. The temptation will always be to drive the soil harder.

At some point, agriculture will be decoupled from the economic system, but until that inevitability happens, food security solutions will need to be either innately profitable or subsidised to be so.

aerial image of an irrigated valley in South Africa where water use is essential for food security solutions

Innovations for efficient water use are essential for food production in dry regions like this one in South Africa. Source: Photo by Wynand Uys on Unsplash

Up against history and reality

Innovations for food security solutions are also up against history.

Humans are imaginative problem solvers and innately conservative. A farmer understands what was done in the past to make a dollar or feed the family but will figure out how to fix a tractor with a piece of wire. This contradiction is a massive part of our success. 

People are wary.

The future is unknown, as is how 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. 

But the past is an increasingly poor predictor.

Any change to the food system cannot ignore the immediate demand, or that on the current trajectory, food demand will double in a generation. 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.

Unless it doesn’t because there is a food crisis and people starve.

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, food security 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  

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 food 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. 

Most modern 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 daily. 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.

We predict that the best food security solutions that pass the filters will come from the interactions between food, ecology and diet. For example, to shorten or make more efficient supply chains or return workers to the land or all the innovations and benefits of regenerative agriculture.

And dozens more that will be invented.

a woman contemplating a crop of tomatoes in a large greenhouse

Ecology applies even when the crop is indoors. Photo by cottonbro on Pexels 

What sustainably FED suggests…

Get involved.

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 all future food production and the best food security solutions.

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. 

Finally, we suggest being bold and looking long.

Food production and diet problems will be 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.

Do you have some food security solutions?

The sustainably FED team believes the kernels of global food security solutions already exist, although few are mainstream ideas. 

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 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?
Leave a comment below or join our Linkedin page for regular updates.

Hero image from photo by Flash Dantz on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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