Feeding the 10 billion

Suggested topic for discussion:

This report looks at ways of feeding future world populations without trashing the planet even further.

It’s no secret that the course we’re on with food production and consumption is in need of serious correcting, but a major new report from a global team of scientists has laid out the kind of maneuvering needed to set us on a sustainable path. Billed as a planetary health diet for both the Earth and its people, the set of guidelines put forward by the EAT-Lancet Commission gun for nothing short of a “Great Food Transformation,” something they say would feed 10 billion people, save lives and avoid large-scale environmental destruction.

The team’s proposed diet allows for the consumption of no more than 98 g (3.45 oz) of red meat a week, 203 g (7.1 oz) of chicken and 196 g (6.1 oz) of fish. Meanwhile, the diet suggests consuming at least 500 g (17.6 oz) of fruits and vegetables, 125 g of dry beans, lentils, peas and other nuts and legumes each day. While this presents a massive shift for many, it won’t appear all that foreign to folks in some parts of the world.

Apart from diet issues that need to be discussed include water consumption, more efficient use of fertilizers and land and what can be done to produce food in very arid areas.



28 thoughts on “Feeding the 10 billion”

  1. Edible insects? What are we going to eat as the planet warms? How do we deal with drought and flooding rains?
    Or rooftop gardens or combinations of fish ponds as part of plant watering circuits?
    The suggested diet didn’t seem to grasp these possibilities.
    Have read things in the past that 8m2 of food factory is enough to keep a person properly fed.

  2. John D, I suspect not insects. There has been concern about the decline in insects, and a lot of other vertebrates depend on them for tucker.

    Following the links, there is an article by Andrew D. Hwang at The Conversation7.5 billion and counting: How many humans can the Earth support? – which is well set-out and accessible. He sees the way out as having fewer babies.

    I suspect salvation lies in another direction – manufacturing synthetic food. I was interested in a program on ABC RN – Algae – a new sustainable resource, which saw algae as:

      the frontier for next-generation medicines, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, food and drink as well as plastics, fuel, industrial chemicals and animal feed.

    I only heard the beginning and end parts, but the story seems to be that algae can be turned into a lot of different things, it’s just not cost-competitive at present. So it would need subsidy to develop the industry to scale. Absent subsidies they thought cosmetics may be the best place to start, because the market is willing to pay for beauty products.

    In the long run, their vision was that 70% of world population would be living in cities and virtually all the human and other waste would be recycled in some way via algae.

    Of course the energy input side would have to be looked at to make sure the ratios were virtuous, but this vision sees the upside as allowing more space on the landscape for other species to have a future.

    Worth exploring, I think.

  3. Bjorn Lomborg on the food issue.

    As a vegetarian for ethical reasons, I will be the first to say that there are many good reasons to eat less meat. Sadly, making a huge difference to the climate isn’t one of them.

    Pretty sure he’s got population topped at 9 Billion.

  4. And Brian, thanks for bringing up algae research, it’ll receive a more positive response than when I did.

  5. And I pointed out that in some small parts of the world humans are already harvesting seaweed (for example, kelp at King Island, Bass Strait, near Queen Victoria’s Southern Realm).

    It’s hard to be an ignored Prophet, Mr J, isn’t it?? Sincere commiserations!! But let’s not sulk, let’s keep pushing algae.*

    PS: love those seaweed garnished rice crackers.

    *PPS blue green algae (cyanobacteria) are at the base of many food chains. I even heard a suggestion that blue green algae are what give damp soil its characteristic “earthy smell”. And they are credited with moving the atmosphere of this planet (many millions of years ago) over towards containing more O2.

  6. As an aide memoir, here’s how Jumpy “brought up algae research”. To me it reads like slagging off scientists, but what would I know.

    I realised is probably more fun for Phycology* scientists to paddle around measuring the effects of Global warming on algae around the GBR but wouldn’t their efforts be better directed at ways algae can be harnessed as a solution ?

    ( * just one example )

  7. Hmmmm

    Slagging off GBR research, but perhaps also advocating the development of algae-farming in the future, a type of aquaculture?

    I dunno, sometimes we might have to burrow down into his prose and fossick around??

  8. John D, the latest New Scientist has an article Fixing a flaw in photosynthesis could massively boost food production. The print version has the title Evolution’s biggest mistake gets fixed.

    Photosynthesis is notoriously inefficient. Scientists at the University of Illinois have used GM modification to boost photosynthesis efficiency by 40%. For some reason they were working on tobacco, but are now trying the same technology on food crops like cowpeas and soya beans.

  9. Brian: Brian:

    There are an estimated 1,462 species of recorded edible insects according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

    If you google “edible insects Brisbane” to see who supplies edible insects at a place near you and the equipment for insect farming..
    I certainly wasn’t eating rare and vulnerable insects.
    Think of cricket farming a way of converting compost to high quality protein.
    Commercial kelp harvesting is one way of using algae for food and other useful products. Problem is, global warming is killing off the kelp forests.

  10. Insects and insect farming may be part of the mix. However, we need to keep the sea level from rising and flooding island nations and food producing deltas.

    There is a big problem with food distribution and food waste. I’ve seen estimates that we currently waste about half the food we produce. However, getting that waste, say from a bin near the local supermarket, to where people are starving, presents problems.

    Another biggie is water availability to grow food. Many places, the USA for example, are effectively mining underwater aquifers in an unsustainable way. Also the pattern of land ice formation and spring/summer melt will change. There is particular interest in developments like the one near Port Augusta where hothouse tomatoes are to be grown using desal water with solar power. I think we are going to see a lot more of that kind of thing.

  11. Brian:

    There is particular interest in developments like the one near Port Augusta where hothouse tomatoes are to be grown using desal water with solar power. I think we are going to see a lot more of that kind of thing.

    We are already seeing extensive use of hydroponics to grow things like lettuce. The big attraction is that excess water is collected and recycled with the result that both water and fertilizer use is minimized compared with growing stuff in the ground. Add a fish tank to the circuit and you would be living in relative luxury. Add an insect farm that uses vegetable waste as food and….
    If the system is in a hothouse/cool house there is the potential to to grow crops and produce animal protein despite what is happening with the weather.

  12. Considering I live in a region which depends heavily on desalination plants this is more than a little disturbing.

  13. Australian food production is based on imported species that are not particularly suitable for parts of Aus that are affected by droughts and flooding rains. For example, sheep and cattle are slow breeders that take a over a years to reach sexual maturity and, even then, producing something like one offspring per yr. Too much time recovering after a drought and too much food being eaten by breeders compared with meat and milk producers. (Even worse, hoofed animals that damage the environment with their hooves.)
    The there are crops that need “good follow up rain” in addition to the rain needed to get a crop to germinate.
    What I observed in the Pilbara was a sudden blooming after heavy rain with the blooming able to go all the way to seeding or expansion of the tuber system before the dry took over again.
    More research should be going into finding plants and animals that can be used as feed sources in difficult country. (I try not to think about breeding like rabbits but perhaps we should be thinking about free ranging rabbits, camels, kangaroos and…..
    We might also think about opportunity farming. The sort of farming that is mobile take advantage of local rainfall and harvest some of the run-off?

  14. Brian

    There is particular interest in developments like the one near Port Augusta where hothouse tomatoes are to be grown using desal water with solar power. I think we are going to see a lot more of that kind of thing.

    Yep, I’ve linked to it before.
    Well worth pursuing in the North west of Australia.
    The salt ends up useable too.

  15. Kangaroos have a nifty ability, John.

    A pregnant female can put her embryo into ‘suspended animation’ (likely has a real, proper biological name) if the availability of feed reduces – as it frequently does in many parts of this mostly bl**dy desert Continent.

    Nifty, eh?

    But a kangaroo farmer would need to take a long term view.
    Or dry the meat out.

    Too expensive (in joules, KWatt-Hours, or EROI) to refrigerate, I reckon.

    Just a guess.
    No links.
    No idea.

  16. Ambi, I think you’ll find that kangaroos are slaughtered onsite and the carcass goes into a mobile refrigerated unit. The Russians sometimes find health issues, but that’s because they want to give us sh*t over something.

    They are impossible to herd, and need very high and strong fences if you want to keep them in.

    Too many can strip the land bare, as their teeth can grab anything that protrudes above ground level.

    I’ve been told that if there is a storm somewhere in ‘the west’, kangaroos will smell any green pick from many miles around and you can look forward to them appearing to get their share. The main limiting factor before European settlement was the existence, or not, of drinking water. Now there are drinking troughs for cattle everywhere in the Great Artesian Basin, that limit no longer applies, which is not necessarily good for the environment.

  17. John, cotton and rice farmers practice ‘opportunity farming’ now. Water licences are limited to allow environmental flows. Water is typically stored in ‘turkey nests’, above ground storages with banks bulldozed up to exactly 4.95 metres, because with 5m you have to get government approval.

    So effectively farmers skim river flows in an approved way (it’s more complicated with land flows) and then they’ll need to use it of lose it to evaporation.

    I suspect the Murray-Darling system is badly broken, though I’m not sure any one person, no matter how expert, is across the whole story.

  18. Farmers are shooting thousands of feral camelseven though soft feet of camels do little damage to the environment. suspect they just shot them and left them to rot even though camel is good eating. (Tastes a bit like lamb.)

    Pastoralists in Western Australia’s remote northern Goldfields say they have shot at least 2,500 camels in the past month, claiming the feral pests are running in “plague proportions”.

    Damaged wind mill in outback and camels standing next to it
    Camels have caused widespread damage on Lake Wells Station. (Supplied: Jenny Smith)
    Camels emerge from the Gibson Desert, one of the world’s largest, spanning more than 156,000 square kilometres, in search of water every summer.

    Most are in poor condition, destroying fences, stealing feed, and draining water points meant for cattle.

    This year is the worst summer Lake Wells Station owner Les Smith can remember, and he has joined fellow pastoralists in calling for the State Government to fund an urgent cull.

    “They’re multiplying every year, they’re multiplying in the thousands, millions,” Mr Smith told the ABC.

    “The other day there were 200 camels at one windmill.

    “I only took a couple of packets of bullets out with me because I was fixing a windmill, and when I saw that mob I shot 31.”

    Might be better to farm camels in that sort of country.

  19. Brian: In the context of feeding the 10 million what would you do if you if you could start from scratch with the Murray River irrigation system? And to what extent could we retrofit any of this now?

  20. Brian: In terms of food production there are a number of possibilities:
    1. Simply run the system to maximize food production over time even if this means that food production may vary substantially from year to year. This may mean that it makes more sense to harvest the water close to where the rain falls instead of sending water down evaporation channels to allow the the South Australians maintain their conversion of what were tidal lakes to freshwater, non-tidal lakes. (Bonus is that changing back to tidal may make the channel to the sea more open and improve the health of the Coorong.)
    2. Run the system to maintain more even food production. Implication is that more water storage would be required.
    3. Run the system so that the floods required to maintain the ecological health of the river and its surrounds happen often enough even if this results in less food. (But some of this loss may be reduced by harvesting the healthier river.

  21. In terms of survival variations on the solar still can make the difference by producing potable water to keep you alive. The version I am familiar with involves putting a durable clear plastic bag over bunched together branches of leaves and tying the plastic bag in place around the neck. Water is evaporated by the heat of the sun, condenses on the cooler plastic and runs down to the lowest corner where it can be recovered. (Have a hole at the corner than can be tied off.) I have seen this type of water collector working on vegetation near a dry creek bed..
    Other versions put cut vegetation in a pit covered by a piece of clear plastic with a rock in the middle and a container under the rock and plastic. condensate collects on the plastic and runs down the surface to collect in the container.

  22. I haven’t ever really put my mind to this, but it is connected with what my new business based in the Netherlands is largely about. Not feeding the billions, but providing for a particular group in a particular way.

    When it comes to high density farming the Dutch are right up there. Near where I have my boat (home away from home) in Maasdijk there is an area of 10 kilometres by 10 kilometres of green houses. Why all in such a small area? Because there is a geothermal energy source there. I’ll take some photos when I am there again in a few weeks. It is easy to see the area in google earth.

    I believe that they grow a lot of flowers there (not far from the worlds largest flower market), but they get grow food as well.

  23. Solar still JohnD, good to know. Always take a sheet of plastic. Please carry on the research. What else can be done with a sheet of plastic?

  24. Sheets of plastic are useful when you have to sleep on damp earth.
    The ones that are the best size to sleep on can make good rain capes.
    Next living in the bush question?

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