The Pelletier Column
Feeding the future: with focus on health and environment
by Christophe Pelletier In my opinion, the food and agriculture sector does not receive enough praise for its performance. Over the past four decades, the world population has increased by 80 per cent, meaning that farmers have been able to supply food for an additional 3.3 billion people during that same time period. Unfortunately, the number of hungry people has remained about stable, around a billion people. Every person who is hungry is a hungry person too many. There cannot be any discussion about that, and there still is a lot of work to be done. This is no small feat. Clearly there is plenty of room for improvement, especially when you consider that about a third of the food produced is wasted. Although this does mean that potential to supply future food demand is there.
stakeholders. It will have to place human physiological needs as the primary focus. Consumer well-being will have to come first, before particular interests and before volume. Making future food and agriculture sustainable requires that we address both production and consumption. Waste and excess do not fit in a sustainable future. Food waste is only a part of the total picture. When food is wasted, all the inputs required, such as water, fertilisers, crop protection and money, are all wasted in the process. Overconsumption is not a sustainable strategy either. It takes a lot of resources to produce all the excess calories and protein that end up producing nothing else other than excess human body fat. Until the rise of mass consumption, our grandparents knew what sustainability meant. It was about saving and moderation. These two concepts vanished from the moment that consumption goods became so cheap that consumers lost touch with scarcity and long-term negative effects, also known as negative externalities.
Production VS Consumption The discussions about meeting future food demand always tend to focus on production volumes. Of course that is the minimum requirement, but to meet all the other challenges it is necessary to broaden the scope beyond volumes. Production is only half the equation. The other is consumption. There is lot of work to help consumption patterns contribute to a balanced future between supply and demand. The on-going increase of obesity and diabetes are at least as worrying as hunger because of the negative health, environmental and economic consequences. One of the most important roles in the future for the food and agriculture sector will be to help people feed themselves properly. There is a need for this and it goes far beyond a marketing exercise.
Quantifying externalities It would be an eye opener to quantify these externalities and include them in the cost structure of consumer products. The consumer price and/or the producer margin would look very different! Although it is quite a difficult exercise to quantify the externalities, just carrying it out would give some good insights about the limitations of the current economic model and in which areas it needs to change. Such a calculation would help rethink many of the existing financial incentives that drive the economics of food and agriculture, in particular many subsidies that find their origin in times where the objectives were quite different than the ones of the future. For example, health issues related to food should be considered as externalities. Many governments have calculated estimates of the cost generated by obesity and diabetes, so if society were able to quantify what part of the amount should be factored in food, as well as lifestyle and distributed between the different links of that chain, it would give a good indication of how to look at future economics of a health and satisfied society. The price of food would change but the key would be to have it change in a way that helps a better nutrition and better health whilst keeping good food affordable.
Sustainability The basis for success will have to be education about nutrition and home economics. There already is action is these areas but it will be necessary to move towards a collaborative education, centred on physiological needs and how any particular food product contributes- or notto healthy meals. The purpose will not have to be about enticing consumers to eat more volumes but to make an educated decision and pick the right ingredients. Changing the focus from always more to always enough will also require a change in which foods to produce and what their future physical and organoleptic qualities will have to be. It will also change the dynamic of markets and on which criteria farmers get paid. Collaborative education will have to be carried out by and with full involvement of all 30 | February 2017 - Milling and Grain
Christophe Pelletier is a food and agriculture strategist and futurist from Canada. He works internationally. He has published two books on feeding the worldâ€™s growing population. His blog is called â€œThe Food Futuristâ€?.