MANHATTAN, Kan. – Imagine taking a trip back in time more than 70 years, to the beginning of what many call the “Green Revolution.” It was a time when the world population doubled, and the agricultural industry was forced to grow rapidly with the population to prevent starvation.
The growth in the food and agriculture system took sound research and advancements in science and technology to become more efficient. Today, 70 years after the Green Revolution, the food and agriculture system is facing the same issues of a rapidly growing population and determining ways to meet the demand again using the same limited resources.
World Food Day is a global movement to end hunger and celebrated Oct. 16. It is a day to remember the estimated nearly 870 million of the 7 billion people in the world, or one in eight, who suffer from chronic malnourishment, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which established World Food Day. While most malnourished people are from developing countries, more than 49 million people in the United States alone struggle with hunger.
John Floros is the dean of the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University and director of K-State Research and Extension. Floros, a renowned food scientist, said World Food Day is a day to recognize our past, present, and most importantly our future, as it relates to food systems and making sure every mouth on the planet is fed.
“We have a (world) population of 7 billion people, and we can feed everybody,” Floros said. “But not everybody gets fed. There’s a lot of work to be done, even today.”
Floros said since the beginning of the Green Revolution, the world’s food and agriculture system grew to produce two-and-a-half times more food, with the same resources, to feed the 7 billion. Investing in more research, educating people about where their food comes from and preventing food loss all need to happen, he said, to feed those hungry in the world today and to prepare to feed a larger population—more than 9 billion projected by 2050—in the future.
In the area of research, Floros said more efforts by plant, animal and food scientists, as well as behavioral and social scientists, must be put into finding solutions for some of the food and agriculture system’s challenges. Some of the biggest challenges include water, climate and consumer perception. Water and climate are central issues, he said. Without water, food production will suffer, and if the climate changes drastically, current plant biology might not be able to keep up.
Perhaps most alarming though, Floros said, is that very educated people in the world have negative opinions of science-based technology.
“That’s a big problem, because without science, without research, that system will not be able to advance to the point where we have a secure future for our children, our grandchildren and even their children,” Floros said.
Educating people, especially younger generations, about where their food comes from is always going to be a challenge because of the disconnect that exists between the farm and average consumer, Floros said. Many people and organizations—the government, academic institutions, private industry companies, and social and consumer groups—must continue educating consumers about the food and agriculture system and what it will require to feed more than 9 billion people in the immediate future.
“Because we have managed to produce enough food, and a variety of food, and made it available to the average individual, people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about where their food comes from,” Floros said. “It came from a very sophisticated science-based system that has managed to understand biology, plant biology and animal biology, so that we can produce enough efficiently, transform it into food and preserve it so that it can be available around the world.”
Because many developing countries don’t have preservation technologies in place, food loss at the farm level can be 40 to 50 percent, and in some cases higher, Floros said.
“Most of that loss takes place because they don’t have the technology, transportation means and ability to preserve the material,” he said. “So they lose it to rodents, microorganisms, moisture and number of different reasons that technology can resolve.”
Just as important as improving technology in developing countries is preventing food waste in developed countries, including the United States, where the food loss mostly happens at the end of the system in restaurants, grocery stores and in consumers’ homes. About one-third of food produced in developed countries is wasted.
“This is where we all waste food,” Floros said. “We buy more. We put it on the table. We eat some of it. The rest of it goes to waste. If we were able to minimize that loss, minimize that waste, then we don’t have to waste the resources to grow those crops and animals, and everybody wins. The consumer wins. The system itself wins. The environment wins. The planet wins.”