Confronting the 'perfect storm': How to feed the future

We're facing what could be a devastating crisis—how to feed ourselves without destroying the ecosystems we depend on. We already produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Yet 800 million people are undernourished, while another 2 billion are overweight or obese. And at the same time, almost one third of the food we produce goes to waste. In partnership with the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph we seek out creative solutions to a looming disaster.
Douglas Rasugu sees a lot of food waste on bean farm in Kenya - and it's mostly due to picky consumers and their high aesthetic standards. (Stephen Dagg, www.stephendagg.com)
Listen to the full episode53:59
We're facing what could be a devastating crisis—how to feed ourselves without destroying the ecosystems we depend on. We already produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Yet 800 million people are undernourished, while another 2 billion are overweight or obese. And at the same time, almost one third of the food we produce goes to waste. In partnership with the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph we seek out creative solutions to a looming disaster. In this episode we hear from waste expert Tammara Soma and international food security expert Tim Benton. Part 2 airs Friday, April 20.  **This episode originally aired November 16, 2017.
Global food security expert Tim Benton on the value of food and why it’s so easy to waste. 1:00

Former UK Champion for Global Food Security Tim Benton calls our global food crisis "the perfect storm."

He points out that half of the world's population is the wrong weight for a healthy life, while under 50 percent of what is grown is used for healthy diets.

Meanwhile a quarter of the world's soil for producing food is degraded. And the production of food currently creates as much greenhouse gas as our basic lighting, heating, car use, air travel and washing machines. 

"If we carry on with current trends our food production will use up the entire carbon budget associated with the Paris Climate Agreement, by 2050," says Benton. This would mean a global temperature increase of 3-4 C.  

As consumers and as citizens, we don't value food enough.- Tim Benton

And by the end of the century our population will have grown by another 50 per cent. 

"Unless we start moving towards a better food system, those costs will catch up to us," says Benton. "Our food, water, and energy systems all work together. And when something goes wrong, they all tend to cascade. We could be in a situation where things are bad enough that it creates significant international insecurity."

Fighting food waste

Douglas Rasugu sees a lot of food waste on bean farm in Kenya - and it's mostly due to picky consumers and their high aesthetic standards. 2:59

"The story of food waste is a story of disconnect," says Tammara Soma, lead researcher at the Food Systems Lab. "The global cost is $1-trillion every year."

A clear example of how waste costs ramp up can be found in the production of green beans in the global south.

Douglas Rasugu has a five acre green bean farm outside Nairobi. He depends on the export market for 80 per cent of his income. And up to 60 per cent of his crop is thrown out before it leaves Kenya because it doesn't meet the aesthetic standards of the international market. 

And the beans that eventually are purchased at a grocery store sometimes end up rotting at the back of someone's fridge. 

"It's not just the loss of the food, but the loss of the water. And the fertilizer. It makes absolutely no sense," says Benton. "We do not value food enough."

Web Extra | Promise of Technology
Undergraduate student Jared Schenkels 'lives breathes and sweats cows'. Here he is describing how robotic milkers can lead to happier cows and higher yield. (filmed and edited by Stephen Dagg.)

Follow University of Guelph undergraduate student Jared Schenkels into the future of dairy farming. 2:17

Guests in this episode:

  • Tim Benton has served as the UK Champion for Global Food Security for five years. He works with various international bodies including the World Economic Forum and the International Panel on Climate Change. He is Dean of Strategic Research Initiatives at the University of Leeds and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Chatham House.
     
  • Tammara Soma is lead researcher at the Food Systems Lab  and co-founder of the International Food Loss and Waste Studies Group. She is a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholar and is completing her PhD in Planning at the University of Toronto.
     

**This episode was produced by Nicola Luksic.

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