Less than a decade ago, when one talked about the future of food, people paid little attention. Worse still, no one even linked it with impact of climate change. But now, the future of food is here with us!
Demand for food continues to soar worldwide, resulting in more large-scale agricultural farming. Consequently, scientists are now concerned about the environmental impact of such large-scale production, especially animals for meat.
Studies show that animal agriculture's continued expansion contributes to global warming and biodiversity loss.
Currently, over 20,000 biotechnology startups spread across the world are racing to change sources of human sustenance.
Labs play a crucial role in balancing sustainability and profitability. Scientists say cows and other animals are a significant source of methane emissions, accounting for roughly 16 percent of the world's total greenhouse gas sources.
But with the warming effect linked to climate change, it is greater than that of carbon dioxide. Methane is said to be a potent greenhouse gas. Moreover, animal agriculture adds to environmental issues, including water pollution and deforestation.
Several other factors are also shaping the future of food. These include but are not limited to growing plant-based and lab-grown meat, personalised nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and the movement towards reducing food waste.
Based on these motivations, several products have been developed in line with the cultural persuasions of the developers. And this has brought in the argument that it is time to change our food culture.
And adopting a more ethical and environmentally friendly substitute for conventional animal agriculture, plant-based and lab-grown meat is gaining popularity.
Technology advancements have made it possible to produce meat substitutes that are almost identical to traditional meat. However, expert chefs would need help separating real meat from emerging plant-based ones.
Interestingly, it is not just the aspect of plant-based diets; the advancement could deal with problems such as obesity.
For instance, a personalising diet based on a person's genetic profile and health demands is now achievable because of genetics and data analytics developments. This may contribute to better health outcomes and a lower chance of developing chronic illnesses.
Perhaps a more controversial aspect is the increasing awareness of the environmental impact of agriculture and a growing focus on sustainable farming practices. This includes efforts to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers.
Meanwhile, the Good Food Institute (GFI), an international network of nonprofit organisations and a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing the development of alternative proteins, says that they have been successful in developing plant-based products for chicken, seafood, meat, pork, cheese, milk, and eggs.
These inventions will have direct consequences, especially if the cost is insignificant. This might help in addressing the future of food in Africa.
Plant-Based Foods Association estimates that overall plant-based retail sales will hit $7.4 billion in 2021. And this is expected to rise as plant-based diets become popular with consumers.
With so many startups worldwide and the intensified push for climate-friendly solutions, the market will continue to expand.
In the past 10 years, the venture capital in the alternative protein market reached $14.2 billion, with average annual investments nearly doubling every year. Through 2021, investments have intensified with many new inventions and widespread investor euphoria across most sectors.
There is no sign that this will slow down. In addition, policymakers in selected countries are also providing research grants towards these emerging phenomena.
The interplay between climate change and food will define the future success or failure of economies. It will also change our attitudes, beliefs, and food production and consumption customs.
For example, in the past, food crises in Africa were always linked to food aid. But, although well-meaning, it often had a negative impact as it undermined local production, further exacerbated poverty, and destabilised cultural practices.
Africa must now ask: When will these new food production methods come into the mainstream, and consumers accept the emerging forms of food production?
Emerging technologies like data analytics and artificial intelligence are now enabling humanity to develop new inventions, including the future of food.
Because Africa has most of the food security problems, it should be evident that the continent is moving quickly to the forefront of future food research.
The writer is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mission to the European Union, Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States and World Customs Organization. The article is written at a personal level.