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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge


Pedro Zaragoza Gasca

Securing food supply trough efficiency in the supply chain

Pedro Zaragoza Gasca

Securing food supply trough efficiency in the supply chain

Feeding 9 billion people by 2050 without a dramatic increase in the demand of water, energy and land for food production is one of humankind’s biggest challenges. Incomes are growing faster than at any other point in history; at least 70% of the population will be middle class or mass affluent by 2030. China and India are the two major economies that will be driving this change. As the population and income rises and the adoption of western diets increases in the developing world, the food demand will increase faster than before. However, today’s crop yields are already at 80% of the possible genetic maximum and most of the farmland is already being used.

The food supply and demand system seems to be highly inefficient. Around 25% of the food produced in 2010 was wasted along the value chain, enough to feed 1 billion people. The developed world is responsible for 52% of the wastage. In contrast, consumption in the developing world is much more efficient, accounting for only 5% of the global food waste. Furthermore, there is a big gap in yields; the developed world countries have higher yields than the developing world. Closing the yield gap by a high deployment of the right technologies could increase the production by up to 3 Gtons without increasing the cropland and with a low increase in water and energy demand. The developing world represents 70% of this opportunity.
5 Illustrative scenarios of how humankind could address the demand for food were modelled. These scenarios are: High consumption, Efficient Consumption, Super Crops, Biofuels Boom and Business as Usual. Technology and policy needed for each scenario are illustrated. The scenarios were compared and assessed against their sustainability performance. 
Diets in 2050 are likely to decrease the average throughput by unit of land. Closing the gap in yields can reduce land increase by up to 50%. On the other hand, biofuels could increase land demand by up to 10% but also have the potential to help close the gap in the oilseeds and cane crops by fostering agricultural development. Cereals demand will be driven by meat demand which will increase rapidly over all feasible scenarios.
Food efficiency has received little attention, especially if compared with energy efficiency. However, it could considerably decrease food and resource demand whilst decreasing hunger and obesity around the world. This scenario requires strong food policy leadership from the developed world to regulate consumer’s food waste, strong investment in the developing world to develop the food supply chain and the redistribution of food by decreasing the food overconsumption of some regions of the world.