The COVID-19 pandemic has altered daily life for nearly every citizen on the planet. And along with the direct effects of the virus, including illness and death, the pandemic effectively reached every industry. For starters, the cost of various raw materials rose dramatically in 2020, a trend that continues into the present day.
According to Bloomberg Wealth, the price of “commodities from oil to copper and grains” are on the rise, and consumers can expect to see increased food costs as a result. And as the cost of food goes up, the rate of hunger climbs with it, in developed and impoverished nations alike. Before the onset of COVID-19, some 690 million people around the world were affected by hunger, and the pandemic only served to increase that number by at least 83 million.
The situation is dire, as hunger is also directly linked to malnutrition, poverty, and myriad health problems. As such, to combat global hunger in a post-pandemic world, various solutions have been proposed, and technology is at the epicenter.
By reshaping global food systems and harnessing innovative farming techniques such as biotechnology and sustainable agriculture, we may be able to put an end to world hunger. Let’s take a look at how advancements in technology are helping conquer hunger using efficient and sustainable food production methods.
Hunger is Just the Beginning: What’s at Stake
Solving global hunger is one of the so-called 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) laid out by the United Nations in 2015, alongside looking for solutions to poverty and economic inequality. Yet while the issue of hunger is global in scale, it is at the local level where change must begin. City leaders should first develop an understanding of the nutritional needs of residents, as well as pinpoint any existing barriers to healthy food access. Do a large number of residents live in a food desert, for example, and what financial considerations exist?
Consuming a well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet is a luxury for many global citizens. What’s more, limited food access means that nutritional needs typically cannot be met. Even in developed countries, vulnerable citizens are often left behind in terms of nutrition. Pregnant women, children, and seniors are especially prone to common nutrient deficiencies, notably iron and calcium. A lack of iron, in fact, abundant in dark green leafy vegetables and red meats, is the world’s most prevalent nutritional deficiency.
Yet those populations that lack access to iron-rich foods have options in terms of essential nutrient intake, thanks to technology. Specifically, scientists believe that biofortified crops can help fill in nutritional gaps and bring vital nutrients to those in need. Indeed, the potential reach of biotechnology encompasses a wide array of agricultural applications and is also environmentally responsible.
Emerging Agricultural Tech to Improve Production
What’s more, genetically modified crops, such as those fortified with essential nutrients, often yield a larger amount of usable product than their traditionally grown counterparts. That’s because growing biofortified crops typically requires fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The mindful manipulation of plants via biotechnology and genetic modification is thus beneficial on both a humanitarian and environmental level.
Space is also an issue in terms of growing crops, so agricultural technology must also take available farmland (or lack thereof) into consideration. As of 2005, about 40% of the available land on Earth was used in a food production capacity, reports National Geographic, but that’s not the whole story. In fact, the use of so much land for farming negatively impacts the environment, on a large scale. Water pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion are just a few of the environmental consequences of agriculture.
Indoor farming is thus a viable option in arid climates, or those areas prone to cold weather events, while also reducing the environmental impact of farming. But indoor crop production is decidedly more complex than its open-air counterpart, and agricultural industry leaders are turning to technology to improve efficiency. Vertical farming has shown promise in this regard.
As its name suggests, vertical farming towers above the Earth’s traditional fields that have produced crops for millennia. Various forward-thinking companies are building expansive greenhouses where crops are grown in towers, using gravity for irrigation and various forms of technology to monitor temperature and humidity levels. One such company, Plenty, even harnesses AI in addition to vertical farming, resulting in high yields using only 1% of the water needed for conventional methods.
Sustainable Farming and the Social Aspects of Hunger
Vertical farming is also widely touted as a sustainable alternative to traditional crop production methods. And where agriculture is concerned, the concept of sustainability encompasses environmental and social aspects, in equal measure. Sustainable agriculture aims to produce healthy, high-quality products in a manner that’s environmentally sound as well as socially sustainable.
The social considerations of farming are more important than ever as food costs continue to rise in the wake of stagnant wages. Further, where hunger and malnutrition are rampant, poverty is also likely to be prevalent. One notable aim of sustainable farming is to help reduce global poverty numbers, by providing a living wage to farm workers across the globe.
Biotechnology also provides a sustainable option in this regard, as malnutrition can be seen in greater numbers among the world’s poorest citizens. Low-cost staple crops simply don’t provide all the necessary nutrients needed for a healthy diet and lifestyle, so technology should be used to bridge the gaps. Increasing dietary diversity is a key component of curbing malnutrition around the world, as is working to reduce the cost of healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables. Sustainable farming also aims to localize crop production, further reducing costs for farmers and consumers alike.
Addressing global hunger is no small task, but there are promising changes on the horizon. Countries such as Portugal, for example, have recognized how agriculture connects with the circular economy, and the continued need to feed a growing population in a low-cost, environmentally friendly manner. From biotech to vertical farming and beyond, technology is at the forefront of innovation in terms of reducing hunger and malnutrition on a global scale.