World Population Day (July 11): Will The Earth Have Enough to Feed its Future Population?

World Population Day Image Source: The Earth Connection

World Population Day
Image Source: The Earth Connection

Observed on July 11 every year, World Population Day looks to raise awareness on global population issues. This day, established by the United Nations in 1989, was born out of people’s interest in the 5 Billion Day on July 11, 1987 when the world’s population reached 5 billion. The world population crossed 7 billion in 2012. In July 2015, it is around 7.3 billion and counting. Estimates say that the world population by 2050 will be so much that it will require resources from 2 earths to sustain it.

With an explosion in population growth, some major concerns have plagued humanity. One of the biggest is that regarding food. Earth today produces enough food for 6 billion people and studies show that even if no food was wasted and everyone took to a vegetarian diet, the earth can feed a maximum of 10 billion people. We can improve production and reduce wastage, but not beyond a certain extent. Scary thought? Is there a way to solve the problem? Scientists and planners say yes. Let us look at some of them.

Algae: Algae are the most widely spread living organism on earth and can thrive almost anywhere- in water, in land, in deep soil and even on ice. They does not have roots, consume nutrients from the surface and can multiply very fast. Studies have shown that algae constitute a lot of nutrients – vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats. In fact, Algae as food is already consumed in many Asian countries like Japan. It is also used widely for medicinal purposes. So this wonder plant might just be the food that saves humanity!

Insects: While the thought might sound disgusting to many, insects are rich in protein and nutrients like iron and zinc. Also, they do not need too much of space to grow and emit lesser green house gases. Many people in the world already eat insects- fried crickets are a popular snack in Thailand, termites are a favorite food in many African countries and grasshoppers are eaten in Mexico. While it might take a while for the rest of the world to get used to eating insects, the future of food may lie in entomophagy, which is a term for eating insects.

Artificial meat: The world will need lots of proteins for its ever increasing population and there will a time soon when there will not be enough protein to feed all humans. So artificial meat or synthetic meat could be one solution. The idea is to create meat or something that is meat-like at a factory or in fact in a test tube, instead of a farm, without using or killing an animal. Scientifically it is done through what is known as tissue-engineering. There has been a lot of development going into it and the world’s first lab-made hamburger was eaten in London in August 2013. Currently, producing such meat is not economically viable, but then that has been the case with most inventions and we may see a breakthrough in the not-so-distant future.

3-D printing: Spanish-based company Natural Machines has developed ‘The Foodini’, a 3D food printer, which uses real and fresh ingredients to create food whether it is a salad, spaghetti, bread rolls or fish and chips. 3-D printing in case of food is the process of generating three dimensional meals by placing layers of food ingredients on the top of the one another. Of course a 3-D printer does need real ingredients, but it is touted to be a solution to solve the problem of food security by helping companies to reduce food waste and manage resources in a more effective manner. 3-D printers can also help produce familiar dishes from substances like algae, insects or even grass which normally might not sound appetizing. It might be too early to say, but 3-D printing does have a lot of potential when it comes to solving mankind’s food concerns.

We are likely to find a way to feed the rapidly expanding population. But it might mean a radical change in what we eat and how we eat it.