New farming techniques and more sustainable eating habits are the order of the day if we want to keep feeding the planet’s population. Feeding the world’s growing population will not be an easy task. By 2100, it’s estimated that there will be 11 billion people on the planet, 4 billion more than there are today. And 870 million people worldwide are already chronically hungry. The planet can definitely produce enough food for 11 billion people, experts say, but whether humans can do it sustainably, and whether consumers will ultimately be able to afford that food, are separate matters. Humans can’t rely on a single solution to feed a population of this size, experts say. A number of different strategies will be required, each of which will move humans a little bit closer toward closing the gap between the amount of food they have, and the amount of food they need.
Here are six possible strategies to help feed 11 billion people:
Eat less meat: As society tries to feed the growing population, it will have to pay close attention to the use of the Earth’s resources, or risk making the situation worse. The greenhouse gas emissions generated by the production of cheeseburgers in the United States each year is about equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from 6.5 million to 19.6 million SUVs over a year. To feed 11 billion people, Americans will need to eat differently than they do today, which may involve eating more vegetables, which take much less energy to produce and less meat.
Eat fake meat: Scientists have been working to develop cultured meat, or synthetic meat grown in a lab. Some research has been skeptical that lab-grown meat would be truly more sustainable than meat from cows. Cultured meat still requires nutrients, and currently, researchers “feed” lab meat, in part, with blood from cow fetuses. Researchers have proposed that they could one day use algae to feed cultured meat, but this has not been proven.
Throw less food away: One big inefficiency in today’s food systems is how much food is wasted. One out of every four calories that’s produced for human consumption today is not ultimately consumed because it is lost or wasted. Some 56 percent of global food loss and waste occurs in the developed world. And the average American household loses $1,600 a year on wasted food. At home, Americans can reduce the amount of food they throw away by eating leftovers, or not preparing more food than they’ll need for a given meal.
Aquaponics: One up-and-coming idea for sustainable food production is actually based on an ancient concept called aquaponics, a system that combines fish farming with plant farming in water.
Vertical farming: Given the scarcity of new agricultural land to grow food, some have proposed taking farming to vertical farming. Food produced in vertical farms would not be in danger of being lost due to extreme weather events, and because the farms would be inside cities themselves, crops would not need to be shipped thousands of miles. However, the idea of vertical farming has not been proven. And some researchers have argued that the cost of lighting indoor vertical farms would be too expensive.
Improve crop production worldwide: Crop production in certain parts of the world is not very efficient. Efforts should be made to improve crop production in those areas using the foods that are already grown and eaten by the people there.