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The Future of Food: What Factors Will Drive the Food We Eat in 2050

by Agritech Digest

By 2050, the food production, distribution, and consumption landscape will slightly deviate from current operations and processes, and certain drivers and innovations today will determine what will be consumed as food then.

By Oyewole Okewole

Discussions about the future, when raised, can be quite an interesting subject for a number of stakeholders including organisations and nations. Many project about the future with a view to extrapolating current certainties of its operations. There are also intents to speculate possible scenarios, and how these scenarios could significantly impact human livelihood, hinging on the relevance of present-day planning, building, and strategising.

One critical issue of interest is the future of food. This fundamental necessity needed for survival is one of the most crucial drivers of many human endeavours. It is, perhaps, the future of food that shapes and determines other future elements.

By 2050, the food production, distribution, and consumption landscape will slightly deviate from current operations and processes, and certain drivers and innovations today will determine what will be consumed as food then. Forward-looking leaders have progressively created conversations around some of the current drivers and the ways they will shape the future of food. Most important is the underground planning and implementation strategies that business leaders, governments, corporate organisations and individuals are taking towards the realities of this future. Decisions are being made today with a view to anticipating the projected future of food. Some important factors will be considered here while indicating their possible impact on the future of food produced and consumed.

Population Growth

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According to the Harvard Business Review, over the last century, the global population has quadrupled. In 1915, about 1.8 billion people were living on earth. Today, about 8 billion people inhabit it. The global population is projected to reach about 9.7 billion by the year 2050.  With about 3.4 billion more people to feed, and with the growing desire of the middle class, global food demand will increase. This growth, coupled with rising incomes in developing nations, will cause dietary changes and further drive up global food demand. 

According to the estimates compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), there is a need for an increase in the current food production by 60% to feed the world in 2050.  Doubling food production by the year 2050 has been proposed to be a major challenge, especially with the current operations of the food systems. Producers/farmers will need to increase crop production, for example, either by increasing land under cultivation or increasing productivity in a sustainable manner. To ensure sustainability and optimisation in food production, there will be a need to integrate production with technology. There will be a need to address the question of how to feed this growing global population. Also, the question of how to achieve this consistently and sustainably will be addressed.  

There are innovative technologies that are already being adapted partially or entirely today for food production. These include precision farming, robotics, digital technologies, advances in biotechnology, and many others that have been introduced as new or adapted technology from existing ones. Identified gaps to ensure feeding a global population of about 10 billion will have to be addressed. While addressing these gaps, many forms of adjustments and variations will have to be introduced. According to the World Resources Institute, feeding about 10 billion people will require that the following three gaps be closed. They include; a 56% food gap from the year 2010 to the year 2050, a 593 million-hectare land gap, and an 11-gigaton GHG mitigation gap.  

[Read also: Regenerative Agriculture (Ra), the Prospects, and the Nexus with Agricultural Technology (Agtech)]
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Creating a Sustainable Future by 2050

Source: www.wri.org/sustfoodfuture

Increasing Urbanisation

Urbanisation is the population shift from rural to urban areas. It is the corresponding decrease in the proportion of people living in rural areas and the ways in which societies adapt to this change. Urbanisation intrinsically leads to a rising and changing food demand. It results in urban population growth, urban expansion, and migration from rural communities to the cities according to Wikipedia. There are food consumption structural changes that result from urbanisation. These changes are triggered by different lifestyles, food availability, purchasing power, and a greater percentage of women working outside the home due to increased economic opportunities in the urban areas. The level and rate of urbanisation will also have important commodity impacts. It will drive the global food supply markets and trade. 

Some food items that would be demanded in urban areas would differ from commodities demanded in rural communities. Food demand in urban areas will necessitate more of those foods produced and less food demanded in the rural areas, causing a reduction in their production.  Urbanisation will continue to transform the agriculture and food system across the dynamics of its operations, creating opportunities for urban food production while also creating challenges in the food system. Urbanisation can contribute to longer, more formal and more complex food supply chains. These are usually preceded by rising consumer demand and increased regulation of agri-food systems. 

To address these bottlenecks, urban farming, indoor controlled environment farming, and 3D-food printing among others will lead the charge for robust urban food production and demand. 

(Read also: Agritech Companies are Reshaping Agriculture and Sustainable Farming Through Innovation and Technology)
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Drivers of Urbanisation.

Source: FAO

Climate Change

Climate change is putting pressure on food-producing resources and consequently causing increased risks in food production.  It will be a major factor in determining the available food we consume by 2050. The effects of climate change will cause a decline in food production due to extreme weather conditions such as excessive heat and flooding. It was reported that global yields could decline up to 30% by 2050. Climate change will affect food security at all levels, disrupting food availability, reducing access to food, and negatively affecting food quality. 

It was estimated that climate change could lead to more than half a million additional deaths worldwide in 2050 due to changes in the composition of diet and body weight. This is primarily due to reductions in fruit and vegetable consumption.  It was further reported that the estimated number of deaths as a result of climate change-induced heat stress is about 100,000 deaths per year. Also, an increase in the proportion of people who are underweight would lead to about a quarter of a million additional deaths. The World Health Organisation indicates that 3.6 billion people already live in areas susceptible to climate change and projected that between 2030 and 2050, under-nutrition, heat stress, diarrhoea and malaria could cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths annually.  The same applies to those overweight. Global yields of major world food crops (rice, maize, wheat, and soybean) that account for over 67% of the human calorific intake are under  threat by climate change. An increase in temperature of 1oC can reduce global wheat production by an average of approximately 6%, rice by 3%, maize by 7.4% and soybean by 3.1% according to a research study.

There will be a need to explore alternative crops by 2050. Crops that can be grown with a smaller carbon footprint in sufficient quantities with increased nutritional value. Crops like eggplants, cabbage, sweet potatoes, onions, mushrooms, green onions, carrots, lettuce and others, can create less than 0.26kg CO2 per kg of produce. These crops will likely also be produced under a controlled environment, especially in regions grossly affected by climate change. This will have an impact on the food consumed and perhaps change the diets of those affected.

Increased Awareness of Healthy Habits

A larger part of the global population will take their health more seriously. While advances in the health sector will address some of the issues associated with health habits, food and diet will become a crucial part of living such a desired life. There will be increased awareness about the components of the food produced and consumed, and whether or not these foods are sustainably produced, distributed and consumed. These intentions will also identify more production of certain classes of foods than others because their demands will drive their creation. For example, the organic production of foods like proteins, vegetables, and fruits will be in high demand. Furthermore, the components of foods and drinks including their quantities, uses, benefits and detrimental effects if any, will determine what will be consumed and necessitate some more innovative foods that will be produced to address specific health conditions. For example, there is an increasing demand for cassava flour as a gluten-free alternative compared to wheat flour, especially for people with celiac disease—an autoimmune response to gluten that causes the body to attack the small intestine, causing belly pain, nausea, bloating or diarrhoea. This will be replicated specifically in all foods consumed that address specific diseases by 2050.

Technology

Advancements in technology will drive the future of the food consumed. It will also double as a means of solving many challenges in the current global food system experienced today. Technology will become central to food production, supply and value chain processes, and consumption. The Institute of Food Technologies, in one of their article series, identified some areas technology will play significant roles from robots in our kitchens to personalised nutrition at the consumption end of the value chain. Biotechnology will play a central role in the demand for global nutrition through many possible nutrient extraction methodologies and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In addition to this, living healthier lives demands that consumed foods can be traced to their sources and monitored through traceability and blockchain technology applications.

On-farm smart irrigation technologies, for example, will ensure increased resilience and productivity in the midst of the adverse effects of climate change by 2050. Technology would also ensure personalised nutrition in the form of 3-D printing technologies. In almost every area of the agriculture and food system, systemic, structured, and real-time synchrony of data and information will be championed by technologies. Furthermore, technology is projected to take an even more instructive position in developing and operating optimised models across the food system and identified value chains.

These factors are pillars that will drive the future’s food narrative. It should be noted that although there will be differences in the food ecosystem by independent nations and regions in terms of the applications and intensity, these factors will contribute to food production and consumption,  the overall assessment certainly expresses that independent nations will address these changes in their unique ways.

Oyewole Okewole. Agricultural Project Development Specialist

Cover Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

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