Biodiversity, Food Security and Future Fit Crops

Our food system is flawed.
Humans can consume 300,000 different species of plants that can supply us all the essential macro-nutrients for us to survive, perform, and thrive1. Yet, we only rely on 50 crops from 97 plant species for 90% of all of our calorie intake globally. That is a mere 0.0003% of the total pool of edible plant species. It is even more frightening that 4 crops – wheat, rice, maize, and soybean – account for two-thirds of the total human caloric intake2. This trend of moving toward homogeneity in our global food basket continue to accelerate with no sign of slowing3. Our food basket is too homogeneous and narrow. This is a bit concerning. OK, but so what?

Global food security is being threatened.
This lack of diversity in our food system makes it more vulnerable to disruptions caused by extreme weather, pests, and diseases, which are all being exacerbated by climate change4. At the same time, yields of these crops are stagnating due to degrading soil and water quality. A one degree Celsius rise in global temperature can lead to an average yield of the aforementioned four stable crop by 5%5. This is alarming considering the increasing need to produce more from less due to an increasing global population and decline in non-renewable resources. It will soon be a struggle to feed everyone, if the status-quo persists.

Human health is being jeopardized by our flawed food system.
Our nutrient-poor, calorie rich food basket has led to a paradoxical situation, where we are producing more and eating more than ever yet humans in both the developing and developed countries are still plagued with hunger. This hunger refers to the ‘hidden’ hunger, or malnutrition – caused by a deficient intake of macro-nutrients and/or micro-nutrients. This ‘hidden’ hunger has also been identified to be a key risk factor for many non-communicable diseases – such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Globally, it is estimated that one in every three people suffer some form of malnutrition, and this is projected to reach one in two by 20256. Quite terrifying, to be honest. Something has to change.

Harnessing the potential of Future-Fit crops for food security and biodiversity.
There exists a list of crops – referred to as ‘neglected and underutilised crops by the United Nations – that are being ignored by the agri-food industry. The United Nations, through a comprehensive report, has called more widespread utilisation of these neglected crops species to ‘bridge the production and nutrition gaps’ in our current system.

These underutilised crops can be narrowed down further to those that are ‘Future-Fit’. Future Fit crops, to put simply, are:

  • nutritionally dense, with balanced macro-nutrient compositions and rich micro-nutrients contents
  • climate-resilient – like being drought-resistant, or can withstand high temperature
  • resource efficient – can survive in poor soil conditions with minimal demand for inputs such as water and fertilisers
  • and economically viable for smallholder farmers.

Bambara groundnuts, lupin, moringa, lentils are some examples that would qualify as future-fit. Stay tuned, we will explore these crops in detail in other posts in our blog series.

At WhatIF Foods, we promote the production and consumption of Future Fit crops by focusing our innovative efforts in incorporating them into tasty, familiar, and accessible food products. What’s a better way to do that than Asia’s favourite comfort food –  instant noodles?

Footnotes:

  1. Warren J. Why do we consume only a tiny fraction of the world’s edible plants? World Economic Forum.
  2. Tilman D, Balzer C, Hill J, Befort BL. Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011;108(50):20260-20264. doi:10.1073/pnas.1116437108
  3. Khoury CK, Bjorkman AD, Dempewolf H, et al. Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111(11):4001-4006. doi:10.1073/pnas.1313490111
  4. Tran M. Growing reliance on fewer crops will increase risk of drought and disease. Guardian Online.
  5. Zhao C, Liu B, Piao S, et al. Temperature increase reduces global yields of major crops in four independent estimates. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017;114(35):9326-9331. doi:10.1073/pnas.1701762114
  6. Branca F, Lartey A, Oenema S, et al. Transforming the food system to fight non-communicable diseases. BMJ. 2019;364. doi:10.1136/bmj.l296
Biodiversity, Food Security and Future Fit Crops