Innovation in food security

Innovation in food security

By Bethan Manley, PhD student at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge

Why food security?

In the next 30 years, a rise in global food demand spurred by an increased population and income growth is set to require an increase in food production by at least 60 per cent more than 2006 levels. This requirement to increase food production must also negotiate the challenges brought by climate change. The impact of climate change on food production will continue to worsen, particularly in countries that are already food insecure and are experiencing the largest increases in population.

It is a colossal challenge: Not only must we identify solutions to the challenge of coping with unprecedented demands for food in the coming years, we must also minimise emissions within the food system to reduce the impact of climate change. However, such a massive global challenge paves the way for innovation!

The programme

The Food Security Venture Creation Weekend is a collaboration between the Cambridge Judge Entrepreneurship Centre and the Cambridge Food Security Forum. The Cambridge Food Security Forum focuses on the importance of a sustainable food system and addresses how to achieve access to sufficient and nutritious food for the global population. The programme aims to promote innovation within Food Security and provide examples of how researchers and entrepreneurs are contributing to a more sustainable food system.

This will be a hands-on programme where participants will work closely with a broad range of mentors to develop and pitch a business idea, meet like-minded attendees from a range of disciplines and deliver the final pitch to the Panel of Judges.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) describes four elements of food security: availability, access, use, and system stability. This weekend programme aims to address a range of different areas of food security within these elements, each with different challenges and opportunities:

Food biotechnology

Biotechnology has been improving the food system since humans first began breeding crop and animal species for advantageous traits. Food biotechnology has since provided the ability to more precisely develop new crop varieties, and has allowed for progressions such as the potential to replace environmentally costly fishmeal with transgenic crops as a source of omega-3 for farmed salmon.

Consumer behaviour

Consumer behaviour and preference hugely influences the food system. Access to food that is sufficient in nutrition and quantity is affected by demand and consumer choice. Examples of consumer behaviour causing food insecurity include expenditure of land for production of food items that are detrimental to health such as alcohol and tobacco, and a huge demand for environmentally taxing meat products.

Supply chain management

Food availability relies on efficiently sourcing, packaging, shipping, and storing food items. Attempts to innovate in this area include the urban farming movement, which aims to produce food for demanding city populations using concepts such as space-efficient indoor hydroponics farms.

Nutrition

A secure food system requires adequate nutritional content of food items as well as sufficient quantities. Global food security requires that, not only do we abolish malnourishment, we also reduce obesity and the strain on the health and food system that it brings. Providing incentives for a healthier, nutritious diet may remove a strain on food production.

Food waste

Global food waste amounts to up to a third of all food produced. This loss of food occurs at all stages from production to consumption, and the UK is projected to throw away over £13bn of food every year. Innovations attempting to reduce this enormous waste of the world’s resources range from campaigns to utilise ‘imperfect’ vegetable produce to the use of sensors to test the freshness of perishable refrigerated products.

References

FAO. “The state of food and agriculture 2017”.

Napier, Johnathan A., et al. (2015) “Transgenic plants as a sustainable, terrestrial source of fish oils.” European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology, 117(9): 1317-1324

Bethan Manley

Bethan Manley

PhD Student at Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
Bethan studied for her MSci degree in Biology in the University of Bristol, and is now working towards her PhD in the Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge. Her PhD focuses on the genetic basis behind the interaction between a beneficial symbiotic fungus and the economically important crop species maize. Working within plant genetics led her to become interested in the wider applications of this research: food security. In particular, Bethan is interested in the ways that startups and researchers are making contributions to pursuing a more sustainable future for the food industry.
Bethan Manley

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