Fulfilling Future Food & Water Scarcity - A Mission Impossible

At the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, Ganesh Kishore, Ph.D. spoke at a symposium, "The Interconnected World of Energy, Food and Water," that focused on approaches to prepare for the population boom.

"We want to foster greater awareness among scientists, the public and policy-makers about the interconnections between these three challenges," said Kishore. "The reason for this interconnection is that we need water to produce both energy and food, whether it is about harvesting fossil-fuel energy, producing biobased renewable energy or producing food, we need fresh water!"

He noted that the global population will rise from 7 billion today to almost 9 billion people by 2040 out of which a huge numbers of people will be moving up into the middle class. Producing food for a middle class that will number more than 5 billion within 30 years will strain existing technology for clean water, sustainable energy and other resources. He described how the addition of one billion people every 12-13 years itself poses challenges that require innovations, rather than simply scaling up existing technologies.

"We will need another 'Green Revolution' to feed the world by 2050," said John Floros, Ph.D., emphasizing that "Millions of people in some developing countries are becoming more affluent. In the past, people were satisfied with food that filled them up and sustained life. Increasingly, they will demand food that is convenient to prepare, certified as safe and highly nutritious and tastes good."

He cited the People's Republic of China as an example. The middle class in China is now larger than the U.S. population and is increasing in size year by year. And people in China are now consuming almost 3 times as much meat compared to a few decades ago. Demand for convenience foods also is rising with the growth of the urban population.

Several other food-related challenges lie ahead, Floros pointed out. Water, for instance, is becoming scarcer, as is fertile farmland. Global climate change may stress those resources even further. The demand for sustainable energy may divert more cropland to production of crops for biofuel production. Economic conditions threaten less investment in agricultural research and development. Drought and other extreme weather could impact food production. And consumption of too much food and less nutritious foods underpins epidemics in obesity and type 2 diabetes.

"We're not doing enough to resolve these complex issues that are critical for providing 9-10 billion people with a nutritious diet," said Floros. "Consumers, industry, universities and governments all need to pitch in. The first step is more awareness of these issues and the need for action on multiple levels of society."

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