A researcher dedicated to global water and food issues has devised a simple way to increase the global food supply to feed an additional 1 billion people without increasing the use of natural resources or making major dietary changes.
Mate Cuomo of Aalto University and his team recently published a study in Nature Food This shows how adapting to feeding livestock and fish can maintain production while providing calories for up to 13% more people.
Previous research by the Kummu Group on reducing food loss throughout the supply chain – from production, transportation and storage to consumer waste – has shown an increase in the food supply of about 12%.
With the use of by-products as feed [in the current study]”This will be about a quarter of more food,” said the associate professor, who is part of the university’s water research and development group.
The study focuses on the inefficiency of the current structure of the global food system that sees up to 40% of all arable land and more than 30% of cereal crop production used for animal feed only. Additionally, approximately 23% of all fish caught are for non-food uses, mainly fish and also livestock feed.
First, the researchers collected data on both feedstock flows and the availability of diet by-products and residues at a level of detail that was not present before. They then analyzed the possibility of replacing competing feeds with foods — including grains, whole fish, vegetable oils, and legumes, which account for 15% of total feed use — with diet by-products and residues.
The team found that reducing the use of grain in feed represents the highest potential for increasing the global food supply. However, an increased supply of whole fish, legumes and oilseed rape can contribute significantly to human nutrition, especially in terms of protein and fat.
According to the results of the study, with the implementation of these changes, 10-26% of the total grain production and 17 million tons of fish (about 11% of the current seafood supply) could be redirected from animal feed to human use. Depending on the exact scenario, gains in the food supply will be 6 to 13% in terms of calorie content, and 9 to 15% in terms of protein content.
“This may not sound like much, but this is food for about a billion people,” said first author Velma Sandstrom, a postdoctoral researcher in the Aalto Water Research and Development Group.
Better use of by-products and food waste affects more than just food production. It has been shown to reduce environmental pressure on arable land and freshwater ecosystems, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fertilizer use. It can also be more cost-effective since many by-products and crop residues are widely available and low-cost materials.
Although the authors say these changes are minor, society has faced a lot of backlash when it comes to food for human consumption. This can be a problem because the food that humans eat currently used in livestock production and aquaculture is different from the food that consumers are familiar with. For example, different types of corn are used in the feed industries and some of the grains are of lower quality, while the fish used in the production of fishmeal tend to be small bone fish that are not popular with consumers.
Sandstrom and Cuomo acknowledge that overcoming these hurdles will require adjustments in the supply chain, but say the benefits far outweigh the costs.
“I don’t think there is any serious problem with doing that,” Jomo said. “What we are proposing is already being implemented on a certain scale and in some areas, so it is not something that should be developed from scratch. We just need to modify the existing system and increase the scope of those practices.”
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