How to feed Scotland in 2050

food 2050

Most people will not know what they are having for tea but a panel of experts has been considering how we can feed the world in 2050, without destroying the planet in the process.

They say it requires a significant shift in what we eat and how we grow it.

For The Nine, I asked how are researchers and food producers in Scotland are looking to the future?

Vertical farming

With a changing climate and a limit on available land, how do we keep supplying food to a world population expected to hit 10 billion in 30 years' time?

One option is to go up.

An indoor vertical robotic farm just outside Dundee uses less space and water than traditional farming and isn't reliant on the weather.

It operates in an air-tight room under bright LED lighting and can cut the growing times of some plants.

"I certainly believe it is the future of some of our farming," says David Farquhar of Intelligent Growth Solutions Limited.

"The world's climate is changing very rapidly. That means that we have areas of significant drought and areas of significant flooding. Everything is becoming more extreme.

"Farmers need to rely on a pattern of weather - a climate - in which they have chosen to grow a particular crop."

Genetically modified crops

Image caption Genetically modified crops can only be grown in greenhouses under test conditions

It is possible to imagine supermarkets eventually having their own vertical farms in store but it's unlikely they could ever grow large quantities of crops such as wheat.

Reducing food waste is vital to feed everyone in 2050, currently around a third of food produced for human consumption is wasted, some because of crop failure.

There are ways to make crops stronger but they are controversial and currently banned in Scotland.

The current view of the Scottish government is that there is no significant demand for GM (genetically modified) products and allowing them could damage the country's "clean and green brand".

At present, the only GM crops that can be grown in Scotland have to be in greenhouse test conditions.

But many scientists now believe that to produce more food, we need to look at GM again.

Derek Stewart, from The James Hutton Institute, said genetic modification of crops was a "huge tool in our toolbox".

"If you want to solve problems like global hunger and not being able to produce enough food I think it will be one that we ultimately have to use."

"The world is getting hotter, the world is getting busier, we don't have that time and luxury any more."

Reduce meat intake

The Scottish government have a target to reduce greenhouse gases by 90% on 1990 levels by 2050.

Animals we rear for meat consume a lot of food and they emit large quantities of methane, particularly when they burp.

So should meat be off the menu?

Prof Eileen Wall, from Scotland's Rural College, is working on ways to reduce emissions from beef cows.

She said: "I do a lot of work looking at the genetics of these animals, trying to decode and identify which are the best animals in terms of traits that relate to reduced carbon footprint."

Prof Wall said she was also working on the genetic make-up of the bugs that exist inside the gut of the animals which could give them even more tools to tackle the problem.

She defended red meat production and said that in Scotland it often utilised land which could not be used for growing food.

However, the experts on the eat-lancet-commission say for our health and that of the planet, we should reduce red meat intake and instead look to plants for protein.

More farmed fish

Image caption Robin Shields says fish farming can rise to the challenge

Scotland is the third largest producer of farmed salmon in the world and by 2050 it is estimated fish farm production could double to meet demand.

But like land-based farming, fish farming can have a damaging impact on the environment.

Fish famers have already been told to reduce the amount of liquid medicines, animal waste and uneaten food in the marine environment.

Is it possible to scale up sustainably?

Robin Shields, from the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, said the challenges were not insurmountable but it required industry and the government to work together to find the best way forward.

Traceable products

Our food supply chain is complex and when it is compromised we want it fixed fast but by 2050 technology should allow us to know more about what we eat.

Whisky maker Adelphi Distillery is one of the first firms in Scotland to introduce block chain to their supply chain.

The technology is an electronic ledger that tracks every stage of production, giving consumers greater visibility over where their food comes from, how it has been processed and what it has been in contact with.

Alex Bruce says it can helps us know more about the product as soon as we pick it up.

"If you take a phone and scan the code it takes you to a page which tells you everything about this bottle," he says.

It shows the batch number, who bottled it and when it was bottled.

Block chain could also be used by the industry to track fresh foods such as lettuce and spinach through the supply chain, improving efficiency and reducing waste.

When food is plentiful it can be easy not think beyond our next meal.

But if we are to stand any chance of feeding 10 billion hungry mouths, radical change to our food system is needed now.

Related Topics