New ways to feed the world
As with any crisis, food security becomes paramount. Supply chains become stretched and tested, and often show the limitations of any country’s or region’s ability to cope with the challenges.
Food security, like energy, is a universal issue. Long-term famine has affected large parts of the developing world for generations, with the increasingly damaging impact of climate change-associated drought well understood, but the COVID-19 pandemic also identified shortcomings in more developed countries’ reliance on long chains or big, international suppliers. Effective and efficient agriculture to improve domestic supply is key, but not all countries have the resources – or climate – to do this.
Should food production be brought ‘in-house’ in more countries? Would any country or region be able to grow and produce sufficient amounts of food for the local population sustainably? And how will consumers’ habits change according to the availability, or lack of, their favourite foods and meals?
Technologies to tackle crop diseases and soil infertility
By deploying technology solutions in agriculture, farmers and food producers can both increase the yield from their land as well as reducing the waste from their production process.
Sensor technology, such as FungiAlert’s field-based detectors and this novel solution to help manage the levels of fertiliser in soil, can greatly reduce the chances of a spoiled crop and increase the environmental sensitivity of intensive farming practices.
These relatively cheap technologies can ensure long-term productivity and sustainability as we need to find new approaches to feeding increasing populations across the world.
Significant socio-political challenges in farming
There are a huge range of politically-sensitive concerns around this topic – not least around the associated water supply – while there are also a number of potential technology and science solutions. From increasing yield or reducing the spread of disease through a change in farming methods or materials, to altering the way we look at manufacturing, production and distribution centres along the chain, processes can be made more effective.
Take, for example, reducing food waste in the first place, meaning less needs to be produced and populations can be more efficiently kept fed, as is the potential with sensing technology such as the spray solution for food freshness developed by FreshCheck.
However, there may be associated costs that could look like wastage on a company’s balance sheet. But can any country or Government put a real value on ensuring the food security of the people for whom they are responsible?
We have a moral, as well as practical, responsibility to consider the role and impacts of the food system. – from the UK Government report, Developing a national food strategy
New food types and discovery
Imperial’s numerous research areas also cover nutrition, metabolism and digestion. From the creation of a set of ‘hyperfoods’, with anti-cancer properties identified through computer simulations, through to the creation of an appetite-suppressing additive to tackle obesity, there are many other aspects of food security and healthy lifestyles related to food that we can help you address.
Latest research from Imperial’s nutritionists has also identified a specific type of pea that has a higher level of nutritional value than other varieties. The wrinkled ‘super pea’ has the potential to greatly improve food energy consumption and reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes, especially if made into pastes and hummuses in the place of other more traditional, yet less nutritious, legumes.
Sustainable, organic fertiliser, that produces a high yield in an environmentally sensitive manner. Currently working with Abel & Cole farmers.
Public health at risk
New farming policies should incentivise growing fruit and vegetables for local markets, both for economic sustainability and for public health requirements:
Get real-time analysis and predictions from field sensors about the spread of dangerous fungi in farmland
Find out how Imperial can help you with your specific needs be they immediate or a longer term goal.
Lab-grown food is currently expensive to produce, but student startup Multus Media could help reduce those costs and make the industry more impactful sooner.
Insect based pet food
Insects will increasingly form part of our diets as a sustainable source of protein, and our alumni have already got cracking with this in the pet food market.
The food system is sick
Professor Paolo Vineis, Chair of Environmental Epidemiology at Imperial’s School of Public Health, blogs on why the food system must be reformed to prevent future pandemics.
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