A colleague recently sent me a link to an interesting blog Open the Echo Chamber with a recent post by Edward Carr titled Doing Food Security Differently – Theme 1: Get Over Production. The main gist of the blog post has to do with feeding a growing global population. There are two basic ways to feed an increasing global population:
- Produce more food.
- Waste less food.
Most commentators tend to focus on finding new technology and tools that will help us produce more food, more efficiently. As I’ve blogged about before, people tend to forget about the second option: finding ways to maximize post-harvest yield and waste less. (We waste between $35 and $400 or so billion of food each year, depending on which source you cite.)
Carr’s blog post makes the point that production isn’t the issue and that we are already producing more than enough food to feed a growing planet and that we should instead focus our resources on the fact that we waste too much. Some interesting comments in his blog post:
- Every year, the Earth produces roughly twice the calories needed to feed every single human being.
- There is no unavoidable global shortage that creates famine and hunger. Nor, in fact, are we likely to be looking at a global food shortage any time soon.
- There is less excess marketable supply than ever before. Note that there is less excess marketable supply – this is the amount of food we produce that actually reaches market, not the total amount of food grown and raised each year.
In Carr’s opinion:
The simple point here is that these trends are manageable if we can get over the idea of food security as a question of production. [Emphasis added.] The idea of scarcity is perhaps the biggest challenge we face in addressing the world’s food needs. As long as food security policy and programs remain focused on solving scarcity, food security will remain focused on technical fixes for hunger: greater technology, greater inputs, greater efficiency.
Carr then adds:
Simply put, it is cheaper and easier to enhance agricultural extension to improve local food storage techniques, build and maintain good roads, and improve electrical grids and other parts of the cold chain that preserves produce from farm to market than it is to completely reengineer an agricultural ecology. [Emphasis added.] It makes far more sense to make basic infrastructural investments than it does to tether ever more farmers to inputs that require finite fossil fuel and mineral resources. It makes more sense to better train farmers in storing what they already produce in a manner that preserves more of the harvest than it does to invest billions in the modification of crops, especially when the bulk of genetic modification in agriculture these days is defensive – that is, guarding against future yield loss, not enhancing yields in the present.
I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one that sees reducing waste as an area where we should focus our attention. The technology exists for us to significantly reduce waste and get more fresh food to the consumer. (And, yes, I believe our temperature monitors and ZEST Data Services are a part of this solution.) Yet the industry seems bent on the idea that billions of dollars of waste is an acceptable and unavoidable cost of doing business. It simply isn’t true.
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