The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expects the world’s population to reach around 9.7 billion by 2050. That’s an increase of 2 billion from today. Because population growth will be accompanied by increasing prosperity – which will significantly increase the demand for food – over the next 30 years agricultural production will have to at least double. The challenge will be to grow significantly more food on less land in order to conserve resources and not exacerbate climate change. But how?#
In the not-so-distant future, 80% of people will live in cities. Many cities are already exploring ways to achieve greater food self-sufficiency. Shanghai, for example, expects to be 60% self-sufficient in vegetables and 90% in both eggs and milk, in part by means of rooftop farms. Cities like Rotterdam, by contrast, are embracing floating dairy farms. Indoor farms will play an important role as well. Plenty, a U.S. pioneer in this approach, says that vertical stacking and artificial light enable it to grow 400 times more per square meter than traditional agriculture, while using 95% less water and no pesticides. Plenty’s investors include Amazon founder Jeff Bazos. Similarly, Berlin-based startup Infarm enables supermarkets and restaurants to grow their own lettuce and herbs on-site.
Conventional meat production accounts for one-fifth of global carbon emissions and one-third of agricultural land use. The FAO predicts that, by 2050, annual meat consumption will increase from today’s roughly 330 million metric tons to 455 million metric tons. Or maybe it won’t, because even the biggest players are reinventing themselves. U.S. giant Tyson Foods, for example, is investing heavily in a meat-free future. Its motto: “We’re more than chicken; we’re protein leaders.” Meanwhile, Beyond Meat, a California-based startup, already markets burger patties made from pea protein.
In vitro meat, grown in laboratories from stem cells, could be another option. Sixty companies worldwide are working to bring it to our plates. Meat produced without animal suffering to help solve the problem of world hunger—it’s an exciting vision. So far, however, the costs are still prohibitively high: the first lab-produced burger, which was presented in England in 2013, cost about €250,000. It will take years of research, development, and cost reductions before an affordable in vitro burger can be grilled. Nevertheless, Singapore recently gave regulatory approval to lab-produced chicken nuggets from Eat Just, a U.S.-based startup. They’re grown from muscle and fat cells taken from live chickens in a biopsy. But it could be some time before the nuggets are available in Europe. No applications have been filed so far, and, when they are, the approval process could take years.
More than 2,000 insect species are edible. They’re healthy, low-carbo sources of nutrients and have more protein than nuts and legumes. Some grasshoppers actually have double the protein of beef and chicken. That’s why many people expect insects to help feed the human race in the future. After all, they’re already on the menu in 130 countries. Even in Europe some health food stores and drugstores already offer locust bars, while Cologne-based startup Isaac Nutriton markets insect-based pasta and protein powder.
Jellyfish junk food
With fresh water expected to become scarcer in the decades ahead, oceans will likely provide more of humans’ food. Algae and jellyfish are promising sources. About 200 species of algae are edible, all of them rich in vitamins and protein. As for jellyfish, they’re abundant in nature (in part because humans overfish their predators, such as tuna) and can also be bred. Danish researchers have developed a drying process in which alcohol is used to extract water from jellyfish to produce snack chips.