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Are our current food systems equipped to withstand shocks?

Written by Aly Passanante

January 28, 2020

We are rapidly approaching the projected global population of 9.8 billion in 2050. As a result, we began debating the sustainability and effectiveness of current food systems, and strategising new models and policies to prepare. However, years have passed and we remain with more questions than answers.

The 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World reports that global hunger increased for the third consecutive year, the 2019 Global Hunger Index is on the cusp of ‘moderate’ and ‘serious’, and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) confirms that there were more than 820 million people still hungry in 2018.

Key Challenges

Climate change, conflict, and economic instability threaten local and global food systems. Since the 1990s, the number of extreme-weather related disasters has doubled. Conflict often destroys markets and livelihoods and drives displacement, thus impacting access to sufficient and nutritious food. Economic shocks and low wages prolong and worsen food crises and affect people’s ability to prepare for future challenges. Each of these factors present a daunting challenge on its own, let alone as a combined force, which is often the case.

To say it will be an uphill battle to achieve zero hunger by 2030 is an understatement. However, despite significant challenges there are new developments that may steer us in the right direction.

Innovative Proposals

Hi-tech food and farming innovations aim to reduce our carbon footprint and soil degradation and maximise yield. Cell-based meat companies are gaining traction, having the potential to significantly decrease our strain on natural resources. LED light ‘recipes’ can allow us to grow food year-round and control for taste and quality. GPS-controlled tractors will minimise soil erosion and compaction while also increasing efficiency and crop yield.

Furthermore, programs are tackling all sides of the issue food waste, where one-third of food is currently wasted between field and market. Improved refrigeration during transportation and apps like Too Good to Go allow producers, consumers, and everyone in between to play their role in reducing waste.

Moving Forward

Most people agree that future strategies must be multi-sectoral and multi-level. A single panacea does not exist and innovative and collaborative solutions are certainly the way forward. However, should there be universal strategies and indicators, or will they need to be context-specific? Do some solutions hold greater weight than others? Should the burden of addressing climate change be displaced equally despite inequities in contributing to it? What steps should we take to ensure diverse voices are heard in discussions on the future of food?

The upcoming panel, “Beyond Foresight to the Frontier of Food: The Global Food Landscape in 2050,” will debate many of these issues and more.  Co-hosted by LIDC and Nature Food, this event will take place on 29 January 2020 at LSHTM’s John Snow Lecture Theatre and is open for registration.  We look forward to hearing insights from our esteemed panel of speakers and the following discussion with the audience.

Aly Passanante has just finished an MSc Violence, Conflict and Development at SOAS University of London.

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