The future of food is an area that is often overlooked in the context of short political cycles, but we all need to have a view on how we can meet increasing and changing demand for food in the coming decades, according to futurologist Dr James Bellini.
In an interview with FoodNavigator, Bellini said that increasing food production and reducing food waste currently may not be major political issues, but there is plenty of work being done at grassroots level to encourage more lateral thinking about how to feed a growing population.
“Ninety-five per cent of population growth will be in the emerging world. That is where the demand will be,” Bellini said. “…This is going to be a big agenda issue.”
The sort of food people demand is also expected to change, as an estimated two billion lower middle class consumers will be looking to add more protein to their diets by 2020.
In his view, beating hunger and improving diet quality will need a new ‘Green Revolution’ to drastically increase crop yields, particularly on small farms. However, unlike the post-war Green Revolution, he foresees new approaches to agriculture that will boost yields with greater attention paid to the environmental impacts of agrochemicals.
Jumbo jets and exotic vegetables
For those of us in the developed world, Bellini predicts a much more localised food economy.
“We need to learn to feed ourselves with the seasons. The whole issue here is returning to a much more natural cycle. There will be an increased taste for a much more local way of life….It is already going on and I do think it will gather pace,” he said.
“We can have a perfectly good food culture without having jumbo jets flying around the world with chilled salmon from Alaska or exotic vegetables from Thailand.”
He also suggests we will need to revise our approach to fish farming, to ensure it is seen in much the same way as farming other animals – as the only viable production system that allows widespread consumption.
As our world becomes increasingly urbanised over the coming decades, we will also need to think laterally about agricultural production – or perhaps vertically.
“The future direction of agriculture is probably up,” Bellini said. “…Why do we have to grow on a single plane? Growing on flat land is incredibly short sighted.”
Sweden’s Plantagon is a leader in this area, although vertical farms already exist in several cities around the world, including in the United States and South Korea. Plantagon is currently building the world’s tallest vertical farm yet, a triangular greenhouse with 12 stories. Apart from using less land, vertical farming is intended to bring serious environmental benefits too, including cutting the distance from production to delivery and reducing pesticides, herbicides and associated agricultural runoff.
“People think ‘the future happens to someone else or it happens in 2023, so I can go back to sleep’. But it is actually happening right now,” Bellini said.
“We need a revolution, not just in agriculture, but in the way we think.”
In March 2013 Dr James Bellini will chair Food Vision, a major meeting of food industry leaders in R&D, marketing and business strategy taking place in Cannes, France. Find out more at www.foodvisionevent.com .