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By Lynn Petrak, guest columnist
More means less. That’s the basic outlook for the food supply and demand situation in the not-so-far-off future, when the global population is expected to expand by billions and resources accordingly contract.
Doomsday scenarios are not new, of course. But while some dire predictions have turned out to be less a reality than a threat, prognosticators within and beyond the food industry have pegged the year 2050 as a crucial time, because by then, a record nine billion people will inhabit this planet.
Hiroyuki Konuma, assistant director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Asia-Pacific, is one of those sounding the alarm. “If we fail to meet our goal and a food shortage occurs, there will be a high risk of social and political unrest, civil wars and terrorism, and world security as a whole might be affected,” Konuma told a food security conference in Asia earlier this year.
With more people vying for food and water -- and likely contentiously, in some parts of the world -- the farm-to-table food chain will, like humans themselves, have to evolve and adapt to meet the impending changes and pressures to avoid civil unrest and widespread hunger.
With an eye to that uncertain future, some in the industry are already working on addressing the situation. For example, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), the world’s largest scientific society of individual food scientists and technologists, has launched a collaborative initiative called “FutureFood 2050,” which was rolled out during an April event in Chicago.
The centerpiece of “FutureFood 2050” is a series of 75 interviews with industry thought leaders and an upcoming documentary film. The aim of the multi-media initiative is to spur feedback and solutions to the portended food crisis by beginning and building on a dialogue on how food science can help feed billions of people in a sustainable way. Guided by an independent editorial team, “FutureFood 2050” will highlight ways food scientists and technologists are working with communities and countries to provide healthy, safe nourishment, now and into the future.
Conducted by a team of editors and journalists from around the globe, the interview series will be bundled in monthly themes on the website, FutureFood2050.com. Some of the first interviewees (already posted on the site) include former Executive Director of the UN’s World Food Programme, Catherine Bertini; noted geneticist M.S. Swaminathan; and cutting-edge engineer Anjan Contractor.
“Feeding nine billion people by 2050 simply can’t happen without science and technology playing a leading role,” says FutureFood 2050 Contributing Editor Josh Schonwald. “This project will showcase leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs and activists who are shaping the future of food from a wide variety of perspectives – some high tech, some not. And along the way, we hope to foster a better dialogue about the options surrounding some of the world’s most complex, highly-charged issues.”
Meanwhile, the documentary portion of the FutureFood 2050 project is slated for release in mid- to late 2015 and will be distributed internationally, according to Director Scott Hamilton Kennedy. “Many films have focused on food issues, but they often neglect or misinterpret the role of science, sometimes relying on personal beliefs more than facts,” says Kennedy, an Academy Award nominee. “By looking at this challenge through the unbiased lens of science, our goal is to address critical questions surrounding food in a fair, transparent manner that will hopefully surprise, and maybe even transform us along the way.”
At IFT, current President Janet E. Collins says that the program exemplifies the organization’s mission of providing a safe and abundant food supply that contributes to healthier people everywhere. “We know that now more than ever, there is a need to directly communicate the facts about food science. By creating a compelling publishing and communications program to deliver our message, we can make the greatest impact for our membership and our community by showing the great promise of the profession in the decades ahead,” she remarks.