The future of food – opportunities for students?

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The future of food – we can’t live without it, and we’re going to see a lot of changes over the coming decade or two. A recent report from the World Economic Forum highlights current and predicted challenges in global food supply. Currently, 30% of all food produced is wasted, 800 million people are chronically undernourished, climate change threatens 25% of crop yields, and the human population is due to reach 10 Billion by the year 2050. In addition, 75% of investment in new food production technologies happens in the Western world, resulting in unequal access to new solutions.

Today we’re looking at where food technology is trending, and the types of choices that our society is going to have to make about what we eat. With genetic modification of existing crops stalled and new innovation a challenge in this area, other solutions are needed, and below we’ve highlighted those that appear consistently in our reading.

From our 2050 desk – how is our planet going to feed 10 Billion people sustainably in 30 years time?

WRI Research has identified 22 solutions that need to be simultaneously applied to produce 56% more food, reduce greenhouse emissions, and not use any more land. This is an excellent article presenting a ‘Five Course Menu’ of the 22 solutions – all of them presenting future opportunities for our young people.

First Course: Reduce Growth In Demand for Food and Other Agricultural Products

1. Reduce food loss and waste
2. Shift to healthier, more sustainable diets.
3. Remove competition between bioenergy crops and food crops on arable land.
4. Achieve replacement level human fertility rates.

Course 2: Increase Food Production Without Expanding Agricultural Land

5. Increase livestock and pasture productivity.
6. Improve crop breeding.
7. Improve soil and water management.
8. Plant existing cropland more frequently.
9. Adapt to climate change.

Course 3: Protect and Restore Natural Ecosystems and Limit Agricultural Land-Shifting

10. Link productivity gains to the protection of local ecosystems.
11. Limit crop expansion to lands with low environmental opportunity costs.
12. Reforest agricultural lands with little intensification potential.
13. Conserve and restore peat lands.

Course 4: Increase Fish Supply

14. Improve wild fisheries management.
15. Improve productivity and environmental performance of aquaculture.

Course 5: Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agricultural Production

16. Reduce ‘cow burps’, or enteric fermentation through new technologies.
17. Reduce emissions through improved manure management.
18. Reduce emissions from manure left on pasture.
19. Reduce emissions from fertilizers by increasing nitrogen use efficiency.
20. Adopt emissions-reducing rice management and varieties.
21. Increase agricultural energy efficiency and shift to non-fossil energy sources.
22. Implement realistic options to sequester carbon in soils.

Let’s remember each of these menu items when we’re next talking with young people about opportunities for the future.

The flexitarian diet is the diet to feed 10 billion people and maintain the health of the planet. It signals a big shift away from meat towards nuts and plant-based proteins, along with plenty of vegetables. The diet’s predicted health benefits are many, and it’s good to see some serious achievable solutions being proposed and tested.

A common complaint that meat-eaters have when it comes to mostly plant-based diets is that they don’t often feel ‘full’ if meat is not eaten as part of a meal. However new research reveals something interesting – that men actually feel fuller after eating vegan burgers than other types. It seems that gastrointestinal hormones are released that produce a feeling of satiety, and this is due to the vegan meal itself. Interesting.

The efficiency of food production continues to increase as technology improves, and robotic farming is set to explode. In an industry usually offering seasonal work in often challenging working conditions with low pay and efficiency, we can expect robotic farming to become more commonplace. Low-skill jobs will be lost, but more specialised technical work will likely emerge as the robots need operation, programming and maintenance. One to watch.

The big news at the moment is alternative proteins. With more and more articles describing the destructive effects of animal agriculture, plant-based foods are becoming big business, and meat alternatives have a far lower environmental footprint. The article explains how the ‘impossible burger’ “… has a carbon footprint 89% smaller than a burger made from a cow. A new analysis found that the burger also uses 87% less water than beef, uses 96% less land, and cuts water contamination by 92%.”

Not only that, but this technology is being developed to the point where it’s not possible for consumers to tell the difference between Burger King’s beef and impossible burgers. This has led to Impossible Foods becoming a rising brand, together with its competitor Beyond Meat, whose IPO may give it a 1.2 Billion Dollar valuation.

Beyond Meat is working on similar projects as Impossible Foods, with Del Tacos newest meat taco being 100% beyond meat, and also forming a strategic partnership with Subway to produce the Beyond Meat Subway Sub. 

There appear to be plenty of opportunities for students to explore trends around the future of food, and identify opportunities to work and do business in this area. Investigations into alternative proteins as a food source, business models, entrepreneurship, science and data in agriculture, emerging jobs, analysis of job shortages, the list goes on.

Enterprising teachers can look at modifying learning programmes to include this while still meeting learning objectives, and principals and governing bodies can provide the conditions for this to happen within schools.

Parents can also have conversations with their children and lobby schools to set up future learning-focused activities or groups – students can also lobby their politicians about food-related causes.

Given the work that’s being done, there is optimism when it comes to the future of food, but we have a long way to go, and important discussions and actions need to happen, and fast.

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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