The Rise of a More Intelligent Food System
Many agriculture technology startups predicate their innovations on the potential to help farmers, growers, and ranchers produce more food, with fewer inputs. But the main question for an investor, consumer, or strategic player that’s assessing the ability of the global food system to feed more with less in the next 50 years, will probably be: can we really do it?
It’s a natural response when you look at the facts.
Over the past 50 years, people have increased the amount of food they each eat each year to 575.1 kgs in 2011 from 383.6 kgs in 1961. That’s a 47% increase. If that doesn’t sound like much, the total global increase in annual food consumption by weight increased 237.8% to 40.2 trillion kgs during the same period, as the world population increased to 7 billion from 3.1 billion in 1961.
The figures from China are even more striking.
During that same period from 1961-2011, food consumption in China went from 189.6 kgs to 745.4 kgs per capita representing an increase of 292.3%. Within that, meat consumption rose a huge 1,423%, fish consumption rose 588.5%, cereal consumption rose 66.1%, vegetable consumption rose 318.1%, and fruit consumption rose 1,881.5%. These results were driven by a population explosion of 111.8% to 1.4 billion people from 660.3 million alongside an increase in per capita income from $75.00 a year to $5,574.20 representing 7332.2% in growth.
Yet, despite these enormous increases, somehow China was able to provide its population with an increase in the number of calories each person consumed daily to 3,073 from 1,415 during this period. But, the question again is – can China feed its population at the same or higher caloric level in 2050?
To answer these questions, we’ve taken an in-depth look into the past, present and future development of the global food system.
Through this work, we’ve been able to determine the adoption cycles and resources that helped transform each segment of the food system from Food System 1.0 to Food System 5.0, which we’re entering today. From our research, we’ve created a vision of this future Food System 5.0, which is the dramatic paradigm shift occurring out of the commercialization of 10-25 years of research.
The journey from Food System 1.0 to Food System 5.0
In Food System 1.0, which stretches back to pre-historic times when cooking was invented until the 1300s, the global food system provided the foundation for many of its future drivers such as population growth and the creation of forms of monetary exchange to acquire food. Anthropologist Richard Wrangham found that cooking, which evolved in this period, was probably the most significant innovation in the history of the global food system. The principal reason was that it made food softer and easier to chew.
How easy? Rather than spending on average six hours chewing what they gathered, cooking enabled early human beings to spend just an hour eating the calorific intake they needed to survive. The result of early humans eating cooked, softened food of high caloric density allowed an intake of 2,000 calories during their daily hour of chewing and swallowing. This dramatic decrease in time spent chewing would have made any pre-historic venture capitalist invest heavily in this technology!
Food System 2.0 formed in the 1300s when the world population grew to an estimated 360 million, from around 4 million people in 10,000 BC. During the period from the 1300s to the 1800s, a wide variety of innovations began to emerge globally across the food system. Animal and crop production became widespread and the first phase of globalization brought new animals, crops and ingredients back to major markets. But, for the majority of people, complex meals were off the menu and only the preserve of the wealthy, ruling classes.
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