Tag Archives: human

Change in eating patterns – Overpopulation [#5]

With this fast evolution of the human population, it is legitimate to ask how to feed all these people, especially with the reduction of arable land. It is urgent to find new food sources. From insects to urban agriculture, to meat in vitro, new trends are already emerging to change our eating habits.

The first reason for this radical change in diet is the fight against hunger. FAO says “forest products, including insects, are essential to fight hunger”. Insects are rich in protein, low in fat and especially good for food. For comparison, it takes two kilograms of plants to produce one kilogram of insects, while eight kilograms are needed to produce one kilogram of meat. Insects are very popular in many countries in the world where more than 2 billion people consume some 1,400 species. Insects could be a sustainable and inexpensive alternative for ensuring food security for humankind. Coleoptera, caterpillars, ants, grasshoppers, crickets, worms, locusts and other bee larvae contain more protein than a steak and their farming have a much lighter carbon impact than that of cattle, pigs or cattle poultry.

As seen previously, we consume a lot of meat which raises many problems. According to the FAO, world meat production was 280 million tons in 2008, more than 6 times its value in 1950. We are seeing an increase of 1 to 6% per year. The average growth rate is 2.4% over the period 1998-2008. And according to FAO, meat demand could grow by 200 million tons between 2010 (286.2 million tons) and 2050. To answer this demand, new methods of meat production are needed.

Currently in the experimental phase, in vitro meat could in the coming decades help us to meet worldwide’s nutritional needs. Despite its price is quite high today, around 188 000 euros per piece, an industrial process could lower its price in the next few years, to reach about 55 dollars per kilo. This industrialization, does not lack investors with big names like Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft), Peter Thiel (a German investor very present in Silicon Valley, which supported PayPal and Facebook in their beginning) and Sergei Brin (Google’s founder).

Other solutions are also envisaged. Today consumed in Asia, algae could appear in the rest of the world. These aquatic vegetables have already proven their benefits especially in the fight against cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or hypertension. However, not all algae are edible. Today only 24 species are allowed for consumption in France.

More ambitious projects make us imagine a new form of agriculture. With the increase in the demand for food, and the decrease of arable land, it is urgent to find an alternative to classical agriculture, in the countryside. Urban agriculture could help us. There are already some urban farms, in England in a former anti-aircraft shelter but also in France, in Saint Malo where a young startup promises to grow plants in sea containers. In the future, some architects already imagine skyscrapers dedicated to farming.

Our way of life – Overpopulation [#4]

The way of life of an individual is principally characterized in particular by his habits, his tastes, his interests, his social level, etc. Each country is characterized by its own way of life, but it can be divided into two distinct groups: the northern countries, or “rich” countries, and the southern countries, otherwise called the “poor” countries. The lifestyles of these two areas have a major impact on today’s world. It is obvious that food and water are two major challenges that will be the focus of concern in the coming years if we want to cross the threshold of 10 billion people in a sustainable way. Our lifestyles are at the root of all these challenges and it is from our ways of life that the way we use the Earth is determined.

We are huge consumers of meat, both in developing and developed countries. Despite a decline in recent years, especially in France, the effects are invisible because of an increasing population. This high consumption of meat is a major concern to meet the challenges ahead. Indeed, between 10 and 15,000 liters of water and 6kg of cereals are needed to produce 1kg of meat. Knowing the current situation, where populations still have precarious access to food and water, it is obvious that livestock is partly a cause of this problem. In addition, this sector also has a strong impact on the environment, which we know today, is under threat. In addition to consuming a lot of water, livestock farming is one of the biggest sources of water pollution. This pollution comes from, among other things, medicines and hormones that are given to animals, chemicals used in the tanning industry and pesticides used in cereal farming.

Due to the resources needed for breeding, our demands for meats are not in harmony with an increasing world population. About 70% of the world’s arable land is used for livestock. On its own, animal feed production occupies more than 30% of available land. It implies that one-third of the world’s cereals are used directly for animal feed ; however, a decline in livestock production would not lead to a drop in world hunger despite a certain increase in land and available cereals. In fact, we produce in a large excess to feed the whole world, about 50% of additional production compared to the needs necessary to feed all populations. The problem, therefore, has another origin. It is believed that a decline in livestock production around the world would have a major impact on the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which today account for about 14.5% of total emissions, as well as water pollution and global impact on biodiversity.

So, we produce enough food for all populations but it is very unequally distributed as mentioned above. In the same way, an increase in agricultural production is not a viable solution for feeding the world. It would only push our limits while aggravating the situation of the planet from an environmental point of view. Our demands for food and the financialization of the world make it less and less possible for the poorest people to have access to food. On average, people in rich countries spend between 10% and 20% of their income, while those living in poor countries spend between 50% and 80% of their income. Our current system leaves today little space and little right to poor countries, which suffer the consequences of our way of lives. As a result, the environment is neglected in favor of our appetite and inequalities are important between rich and poor countries. We already see the limits of this system while 2.5 billion more people are announced by 2050. It is therefore imperative to find viable solutions to meet the challenges ahead.

Ressource management – Overpopulation [#3]

While famines are still relevant, food waste has reached records. Nowadays, 1.3 billion tons of food are thrown away. Only in France, no less than 10 million tons of food are discarded per year, or about 150 kilograms per inhabitant, counting the entire sector. This food waste costs France about 12 to 20 billion euros each year. On a global scale, the wasted value reaches 640 billion euros.

While we could say that the waste mainly concerns the northern countries, it turns out that it spares no country. This phenomenon, however, is directly related to the way of life of developed countries. Indeed, when we go shopping, we are used to having the shelves always full, with a huge diversity of products. Then when we go to the fruit and vegetable department, it is almost impossible for us to see a deformed vegetable: all are identical and flawless. The figures speak for themselves: production alone accounts for nearly 1/3 of food waste. Countries are affected differently by this waste, according to their incomes, related at the same time to the “producer” and “consumer” countries. In northern countries, 65% of the waste comes from the upstream of the chain (i.e. production, storage, …) while for southern countries, this waste represents 90%.

In order to feed a more urban and richer population in 2050, food production will have to increase by 70%, according to a FAO’s report. Water will be directly impacted by this huge increase in production. Farming is using 70% of freshwater resources, which implies that its demand will explode by 55% by 2050. Water control is a major geopolitical issue, especially in the Middle East, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. In this region of the world, Iraq and Syria depend on Turkey for the flows Tiger and Euphrates. These two rivers have their source in Turkey and 88% of the flow of these rivers also comes from this country. Syria and Iraq, which are downstream of these rivers, therefore depend on the Turks for the irrigation of their fields. Water is now nicknamed by some people “blue gold”. The United Nations has noted in its latest reports that this resource is increasingly poorly managed, despite the exploding demand. If water management does not change in the coming years, the Earth could face a water deficit of nearly 40% by 2030, well before the 10 billion mark. North Africa already reports a global water deficit of 30% of its needs. Like access to food, people still do not have access to an “improved” water source (defined by the UN as water that has never been in contact with animals). Not less than 740 million people do not have access to these water sources.

The explosion in water demand is also the consequence of the explosion of energy demand, the evolution of our way of life (consumption of more and more meat) and global warming. All these phenomena are interrelated, which only aggravates the situation.

The basic needs challenge – Overpopulation [#2]

The first basic human needs are physiological ones : eating, drinking, sleeping or breathing. To date, despite a decline in the number of people undernourished since 1991, inequalities persist and 1 in 9 people remain undernourished. Regarding freshwater, it represents only 0.7% of the water on Earth according to recent estimations. It is already a source of conflict between nations since its importance is undeniable: water is what we have most precious on Earth. We can already see the limits of our system and we expect 2.5 billion more people by 2050.

Access to food is very unequal. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a consumption of 2500 kcal for a man and 2000 kcal for women to support our body needs. These figures may vary by country but are a basis of comparison between countries. For example, in France, the National Agency for Food Safety (ANSES) recommends 2600 kcal for a man and 2100 kcal for a woman.

At the sight of the figures, the European countries, the United States, or more generally the rich countries are for the majority above 3000 kcal of energy supply per inhabitant. In contrast, nearly a dozen is below the threshold of 2000 kcal, the average of recommendations for a woman, and 60 countries are below the threshold of 2500 kcal, average recommendations of energy intake for a man. So, there are countries with a large excess of calories at the same time as countries that are struggling to reach the recommendations.

Daily calorie intake per capita, FAO, 2010

In the same vein, we can see that the phenomenon also affects access to proteins, which are vital to the proper functioning of the body. The recommendations for proteins are 60g per day and per person. As with calorie intake, nearly 50 countries are below recommendations. The most protein-consuming countries are above 120g per day per person. The gap between poor and rich countries is once again demonstrated. Both maps highlight the numbers.

Daily protein intake per capita, FAO, 2010

Beyond the statistical information that the previous maps give us, they are also a good indicator of malnutrition. The term “malnutrition” defines both nutritional deficiencies and food overages. In a general way this term defines the imbalances of the nutritional contributions. Malnutrition therefore spares no country, only the group to which each of them belongs differs. The first group defined by the WHO is undernutrition, which includes the low height-to-age ratio, called stunting, the low weight / height ratio, called emaciation, the low weight / age ratio, called underweight, as well as various micronutrient deficiencies. This group concerns 2 billion people, mainly Africans or Asians. In contrast, the second group concerns people with obesity, overweight or diet-related noncommunicable diseases. As many people are affected by undernutrition as by overnutrition.

The reasons for this malnutrition are difficult to detect. Nevertheless, concerning the countries or the regions of Africa and Asia, 3 main causes are at the origin of the malnutrition issue. These are the increasing number and intensity of conflicts, the climate change which affects crop growing, and the financialization of the world. Wars and conflicts, as well as climate change, will not cause this malnutrition if they did not reach already weakened countries, which have no or little food reserves. Indeed, some conflicts have lasted for many years in the majority affected regions, such as the Central African Republic. Added to this, there is the purchase, or the grabbing, of significant agricultural land by various multinationals, particularly in Africa. Globalization helped by the financialization of the world are the source of these low prices land purchases. For rich countries, also affected by malnutrition, the reasons are much more diverse, stemming mainly from their lifestyles and the consumer society in which they live.

You say overpopulation ? [#1]

The world’s population is already over 7.5 billion humans. It has been multiplied by two in the last 45 years, and even the most optimistic projections show we will reach the 10 billion mark about 2050. Many experts in population and development discuss this problematic. Is the world ready and capable of welcoming 10 billion people ?

What’s behind “Overpopulation” ?

Population growth is not a new phenomenon. The carrying capacity and WWF recently brought back questions about the world’s population in the foreground. The carrying capacity is the maximum or optimal number of people that a certain territory can accommodate without being destroyed by this population. In our case the territory is Earth and humans. In theory, this capacity is ideal to define overpopulation but in practice it is impossible to calculate it. In fact, it is not hard to model the resources present on the earth but the problem is to know which resources humans will consume over a period of time. For example, a few dozen years ago, rare-earth elements were not used at all and today it’s a major preoccupation.

Despite these difficulties, WWF and some other studies defined at approximately 8 billion the earth’s carrying capacity. A 2001 report from the UN indicated that two-thirds of the estimates are between 4 and 16 billion.

The possible consequences of overpopulation are numerous and we can already see the stakes that such an important population will raise. Nowadays, while we have almost reached the carrying capacity of the planet, we face energy, environmental and social challenges that can only increase.