Shifting horizons: Feeding the globe in 2050

20-05-2010 | |
Shifting horizons: Feeding the globe in 2050

It is not very difficult these days to become worried about planet Earth’s perspectives. “Shifting Horizons” was this year’s theme at the fifth edition of Agri Vision, held 16-18 June in Noordwijk-aan-Zee, the Netherlands, and organised by global animal nutrition company Nutreco. It has become evident that heavy challenges are ahead when it comes to feeding mankind.

By Vincent ter Beek

Nutreco CEO Wout Dekker began by providing a few figures. He put the cat among the pigeons, quoting United Nations data, which prospect 9.2 billion people living on the earth in the year 2050, in comparison to 6.9 billion in 2010. Taking into account that there will be a greater number of wealthier people, the demand for proteins for consumption will rise tremendously. In other words, he said, quoting FAO, “More food will have to be produced over the next decades than has been produced during the past 10,000 years combined”. So, basically, four extra ‘earths’ would be needed at that time in order to feed the world’s population. How can we prepare for that, preferably in a sustainable way?

Meeting needs

A range of scientists and captains of the industry shared their vision on this question, all from their own angle. Professor of energy system analysis at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, Dr. André Faaij, studies how the world’s energy sources can be used in a more efficient way and hence claims that ‘the world can produce food for 40 billion people, more than meeting our 2050 needs’. Key to this, in his view, is the link between agriculture and poverty as approx. 70% of the world’s poor are living in a rural setting. Hence, he said, investment in agriculture is essential, with increased water use efficiency, less land, protection of soils and better incomes. Bioenergy can get the money and sustainable economic activity into the rural regions. Governance is key.

The ‘forgotten’ continent Africa may soon become very important in that sense. Several speakers mentioned Africa as the place in the world not to be forgotten for future generations.

The continent, however, contains many different countries in various stages of political and economic development. Thorleif Enger, chairman of the Yara Foundation and former CEO of Yara International, emphasised the need for investments in Africa to make progress sustainable. “Foreign aid leads to corruption and dependency. We have to make Africans believe in their future, make more investments in agriculture, and encourage entrepreneurship.”

Genetical potential

‘Sustainable precision livestock farming’ was introduced by Prof. Dr. Leo den Hartog, Director agriculture R&D and Quality Affairs at Nutreco. This, in his view, is a synergy of improving all potentials in both animals and animal production. Elements such as nutrigenomics, full system control and farm automation play a large part in order to create a situation in which animals make the most of their genetic potential by growing more efficiently on better crops.

It would be good to take a critical look at the way crops are produced not only for improving livestock performance efficiency. Using genetically modified (GM) crops for animal feed allows producers to harvest more grains from every square km anywhere in the world, meaning that production will become more efficient. Robert Berendes, member of the executive committee and global head of development at Syngenta International, explained and re-emphasised the necessity for the European Union to stop blocking the use of GM feeds.

Reinforcing the GM lobby even came from an unexpected corner as the World Wide Fund also launched a plea in favour of the cultivation of GM crops. Dr. Jason Clay, senior Vice President with the WWF, mentioned regions like Africa, potentially suffering from the ever-increasing demand for area for crop cultivation. Clay reminded the audience of the amount of wildlife still existing. If the world needs more surface to cultivate its ‘ordinary’ crops, areas for nature and animals in the wild will decrease sharply. “If we don’t do anything,” he said, “by 2050 no wildlife will be left on this planet.”

Natalie Berkhout Freelance journalist