Sustainable food production is becoming critical due to population growth, experts say

From Brazilian coffee beans to fish caught in the Mediterranean, today’s grocery stores are stocked with a wide variety of produce.

Many of us are now spoiled for choice when it comes to the food we put on our table, but it’s sometimes easy to forget that the ingredients we use in our kitchens are part of a vast, interlinked and energy intensive chain that connects farmers, suppliers, retailers and a whole lot more.

Indeed, food systems, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “currently consume 30% of the world’s available energy” and rely heavily on fossil fuels. As concerns about the environment and pressure on resources increases, efforts are being made to change the way food systems — a very broad term which refers to everything from the production and distribution of food to its disposal — function.

Through initiatives such as its Energy-Smart Food Programme, for example, the FAO has stressed the importance of, among other things, “access to modern energy services in rural areas” as well as energy efficient agri-food systems that use renewables. 

Olivier Dubois is senior natural resources officer at the FAO and co-ordinates its program on energy. Speaking to CNBC’s “Sustainable Energy,” he was asked whether the greening of food chains meant changing food systems, and how this would affect consumers.

“Yes … it means changing things both from the production side but also from the consumer side,” he said.

“We need to introduce renewable energy in food chains,” he added, before going on to emphasize the importance of being “resource efficient” due to both stress on natural resources and “the need to become low carbon.”

Dubois also explained that consumers would “need to ask for these solutions” to create a market and in turn motivate producers.

With the world’s population expanding — according to the United Nations, it’s expected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050 — humanity’s need for food is only set to grow.

The question of how we feed the planet in a sustainable and effective way is a pressing one that will become increasingly important in the years ahead.

And while energy is clearly crucial to the actual production of food, it is also important when it comes to preventing waste through the use of refrigeration and cooling systems. According to the FAO, it’s estimated that a third of food produced is either “lost or wasted.”

“You have a lot of governments who realize that lack of energy is a major cause of food losses because you don’t have energy for cold chains, for storing food … so there is a big interest in that,” Dubois said.

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