Our growing food security crisis
Updated: Mar 17, 2021
Global food production systems are at a cross roads. The natural environment on which our food supplies depend is approaching a tipping point, and at a time when global demand is rising, these challenges are converging into a perfect storm.
It is difficult to find a conventional food system that is not buckling under the strain of human excesses. Oceans, atmosphere and soils polluted and denuded to the point of barren wastelands. Functional ecosystems are giving way to lifeless dystopias. Monocultures are locked in an arms race towards evermore toxic cocktails of agri-chemicals, and antibiotic resistance threatens the viability of livestock production systems.
Meanwhile, biodiversity in the human realm is slowly being sanitised into oblivion. Wildlife has been packaged-up and put away into fortified protected areas were it functions little more than a National Geographic curiosity. Any natural habitat that does survive outside a cage invariably succumbs to over-exploitation. Fisheries are collapsing, forests are disappearing and species are being pushed to the brink of extinction. Now climate change and infectious diseases are emerging as even bigger problems; farmers and conservationists alike left scrambling from one catastrophic event to another.
So where did it all go wrong? Since the middle of the last century, the Green Revolution saw the start of agri-business leveraging science and technology to keep pace with booming post-war economies. Commodification gained a foot-hold at the expense of traditional food systems, and since then, vast swathes of the earth’s surface have waned under the growing dictates of global corporations and indifferent shareholders. Industrialised land-use practices have held short-term profits as the production imperative. Mother Nature was burned at the stake. In the process, we have inadvertently disabled the complex and vital biotic machinery that supports healthy and robust ecosystems – the fundamental precursors to sustaining a living planet.
The global human population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. As it is, over 10% of our nearly 8 billion-strong population are food insecure. Estimates suggest food production will have to double in the next 30 years if we are to avoid an accelerating humanitarian crisis.
Nutrient deficient diets are on the rise. Cheap, calorie-rich carbohydrates are the new go-to for the global poor – an affordable and convenient 'hunger buster' for those with limited means. A lack of protein, rather than calories, is now the leading cause of malnutrition in over 10 million children. This dependency on monocultures and cheap processed foods has enabled corporate multinationals to further monopolise global food systems and erode small-scale food sovereignty.
When human populations do eventually break free from the poverty trap, demand for protein rises sharply. In particular, the emerging middle-classes have an insatiable appetite for meat – a long-deprived staple now viewed as the elixir of strength and vitality.
Synthetic foods have recently emerged as the cure-all to rising protein demand. Stock markets have rallied around plant-based and lab-grown alternatives to meat. But synthetic foods are also processed. Baseline ingredients invariably track back to sterile monocultures. They do little to incentivise functional ecosystems, democratic food sovereignty or sustainable land use practices, and their potential impact on human health is no different to any other heavily processed product.
Over the last several years, reptiles have gained increasing attention from the sustainable food community due to their exceptional production efficiency and ability to thrive in challenging environments. In the context of global change, their unique biology holds considerable potential, particularly in the fields of regenerative agriculture and nature based solutions.