MANHATTAN, Kansas – Just in case feeding 7 billion people isn’t daunting enough, consider that in the next 30-40 years, the world’s population likely will grow another 2 billion.
“It’s a very large amount of food that we will have to produce in a very short time in order to feed everybody,” said John Floros, dean of the Kansas State University College of Agriculture
and director of K-State Research and Extension
Floros noted that even with today’s highly productive agriculture system, 1 billion people do not have adequate food or nutrition.
“(The world’s farmers) will have to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we’ve produced in the history of our planet,” approximately 10,000 years of human existence, he said.
Floros made his comments as moderator of an expert panel that discussed world food challenges at K-State on May 5. The university also hosted an interactive mobile display, Hunger U, in the courtyard of the Student Union, to help connect college students and share the story of agriculture’s role in tackling world hunger.
Producing more food is much more complex than putting more seeds in the ground or raising more livestock. Floros noted that it involves coordinating many food systems, including pre- and post-harvest safety, food science, animal health, processing, nutrition, transportation and more.
“All of these systems are becoming very strained when you look at world resources and the world population,” said Randy Phebus, a K-State professor of food science and one of the panelists. “We’re going to have to become more efficient and much more focused on how we meet these challenges in the future.”
K-State President Kirk Schulz recently announced the university’s global food systems initiative, which signified a move for K-State to become a leader in understanding and improving the world’s food system.
As such, the university’s commitment extends beyond agriculture, food science and nutrition to include such areas as sociology, anthropology, history and more.
“We have been doing this already, but it’s not been packaged in a way that shows the integration of all of our programs across colleges, across departments and now across campuses,” Phebus said.
The soon-to-be-built National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) is making headlines currently, but Phebus noted that K-State has long had facilities conducting research to support food and agriculture, including the Biosecurity Research Institute, K-State Olathe, the O.H. Kruse Feed Mill, veterinary diagnostic labs, the Food Science Institute, the Kansas Value Added Foods lab and more.
Last year, K-State also won three large grants totaling more than $27 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to build facilities and advance science in post-harvest food loss, sorghum and millet development, and wheat genetics.
Dirk Maier, head of K-State’s Department of Grain Science and Industry, is the project leader for the USAID’s Innovation Lab for Post-Harvest Loss. His project is an important piece in feeding the world in the future: one-third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost or wasted somewhere between the farm and the dinner table.
“That’s a huge amount,” said Maier, who was on the May 5 panel at K-State. “I think the message we want to get across is that there’s something each one of us can do with regard to reducing post-harvest loss or food waste in our homes, and in our own ways of thinking about food as a valuable resource like energy and water.”
In the United States and other developed nations, 56 percent of food loss is at the consumer’s level—such as throwing food away in the cafeteria line or in homes. In developing countries, food loss happens earlier in the value chain—such as during production, post-harvest handling and storage.
K-State sociologist Gerad Middendorf is studying differences in food needs between “developed” and “developing” nations.
Many people in the wealthier, industrial world want to know more about where their food comes from and can enjoy the benefits of having more local foods and access to healthier foods.
Developing countries—especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia—rely on land and water to sustain a simple livelihood. About one in eight people (870 million) in developing countries experience chronic hunger.
Floros said K-State’s commitment is about developing a better understanding on how to produce the right amount and type of food that is safe and nutritious, “and getting it to the people.”
“When you put all of this together, with the complexity of the food system…it is extremely important that the decisions we make from here on out are the right decisions,” he said. “One wrong decision can truly take us down the wrong path, and a few years from now we might not be able to produce enough food to feed all the people on the planet.”
More information about K-State’s global food systems initiative is available online at Global Food Systems