Can we Really Feed the World?
What’s more: with the growing prosperity of many of the world’s developing countries has come a dramatic rise in the consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy. It is likely that 40 percent of the world’s population will transition into a meat-heavier diet by 2050.  Jonathan Foley, the Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, in an article for National Geographic, advised that “only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people directly; the rest are fed to livestock (about 36 percent) or turned into biofuels and industrial products (roughly 9 percent).”  The result is that roughly half of the calories produced by arable agricultural systems reach human mouths.
At the same time, the traditional method of increasing agricultural yields is becoming unsustainable and increasingly ineffective. While in the past simply increasing the amount of land available for agriculture has worked, as competition for space on earth becomes more and more intense, both the environmental repercussions of expansion and the rising economic costs associated therewith are making further expansions untenable.  Estimates reveal that we will have to feed a growing population with little more than the current agricultural land we have available.  Alternative solutions need to be explored.
One such solution is vertical farming, the cultivation of crops, usually in urban areas, in stacked rows of artificially regulated environments. Interesting Engineering, in a recent article on vertical farming, described it as a “revolutionary and more sustainable method of agriculture than its counterpart as it lowers the requirement of water to up to 70% and also saves considerable space and soil.”  Others are more skeptic. Andrew Jenkins, in an article for The Independent, points to the considerable energy vertical farms consume: “The energy demand associated with vertical farming…is much higher than other methods of food production. For example, lettuces grown in traditionally heated greenhouses in the UK need an estimated 250kWh of energy a year for every square metre of growing area. In comparison, lettuces grown in a purpose-built vertical farm need an estimated 3,500kWh a year for each square metre of growing area. Notably, 98 percent of this energy use is due to artificial lighting and climate control.”  Jenkins instead advocates for systems that make use of available natural light.
Vertical farming is swiftly capturing the imagination of Silicon Valley and beyond. In 2017 unicorn vertical farming start-up Plenty raised $200m from tech super-investors Softbank, alongside funds who invest on behalf of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Alphabet/Google’s Eric Schmidt. Last year they announced a plan to build 300 indoor farms in China, as well as opening its first vertical farm in the United Arab Emirates this year. For harsh environment countries such as the UAE where sunlight is in abundance and water scarce, vertical farms could produce a sustainable supply of fresh produce with little external input required.
Combating waste is both an effective and achievable solution. In developed countries, small changes such as serving smaller portion sizes can have huge repercussions.  While in the developing world, innovative, scalable solutions are becoming more widely implemented. In a piece on low-tech African cooling systems, Quartz Africa highlights the potential of FreshBox as one such solution, a “solar-powered, walk-in cold room that provides retailers with storage facilities to preserve perishable products.” 
Despite the wealth of options being explored, feeding the world’s growing population at a minimal environmental cost is a work in progress that will require continued research, technological innovations, and international collaboration. While we possess many of the tools to produce the food that the world’s enlarging population will require, no one solution will work in isolation, but it is unlikely to be the calamity that some are predicting.
 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,  United Nations Population Division,  Environmental Reports,  Environmental Reports,  National Geographic,  ScienceMag,  ScienceMag,  Interesting Engineering,  The Independent,  Environmental Reports,  United Nations,  National Geographic,  The Guardian,  Quartz Africa,  National Geographic,  Quartz Africa
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