Green Super Rice Project With funding from the Chinese government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Green Super Rice (GSR) project centers around a central resource supporting the lives of many people around the globe: the rice plant. Rice is a staple in many diets worldwide, contributing to the food security of many regions. Furthermore, several countries rely on rice exports to stimulate their economies. According to data, Africa alone consumes around 11.6 million tons of rice annually. In Asia, where approximately 90% of the world’s rice is grown, there are more than 200 million rice farms. Most of these farms are less than five acres in size and are manned by smallholder farmers. Due to its prominence, rice links to food security and stability in the countries relying on the crop for survival.

Resilient Rice Varieties

Predictions indicate that the demand for rice will only increase, leading to a growing need to maximize production. The Green Super Rice project aims to research and test GSR varieties from African and Asian countries. The research will allow developers to attain “resource-saving and environment-friendly rice production while still achieving a yield increase and quality improvement.” Furthermore, farmers will be able to achieve crop resilience through new varieties. Rice grows in a unique, wet environment in which few other crops can survive. This means that the environment is specific and crucial to the rice itself. A hybrid variety may allow for a crop that can survive with little water.

Creating new or hybrid varieties involves combining existing rice varieties through a breeding process. The process inputs the unique traits of each variety into the second generation of rice. Proven traits that show up on previously tested seeds include a “resistance to multiple insects and/or diseases, high use efficiency of fertilizers, water-saving, drought tolerance and stress resistance based on high grain yield and quality.”

Increased Output and Income

An important aspect of the Green Super Rice project is the profit it will bring to impoverished smallholder farmers around the globe. The new varieties of GSR allow farmers to garner a high yield from crops while using fewer rice seeds. This is beneficial for rice-producing farmers with smaller plots of land because farmers can produce more rice to sell and eat. Rice farming becomes more profitable for smallholder farmers, and because of the larger production volume, rice also becomes more affordable for buyers.

Proven Resiliency and Impact

Since the launch of the Green Super Rice project in 2008, more than 78 varieties of rice have been successfully bred and distributed to around 18 target countries in Asia and Africa. These countries are able to select varieties that meet their unique agricultural requirements, such as drought resiliency and disease tolerance. When Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the central Philippines, GSR crops stood strong as one of the few crops able to grow in the increased soil salinity. Because of the ability to increase yields and withstand harsh environments, GSR crops are able to increase food security and reduce poverty, especially in developing countries that rely on rice for their economic and nutritional needs.

While only introduced less than 15 years ago, the Green Super Rice project holds many promising benefits for not only the economies of developing countries but also the countries’ citizens. The project is playing a key role in advancing economies and improving food security across the globe.

– Grace Ingles
Photo: Flickr

solar energy initiativeSolar energy is a sustainable source and is considered to be the most cost-effective energy form in history. A solar energy initiative to convert solar power into electricity takes less time and power than any other method of energy conversion. The sun’s function as a free resource also contributes to this fact, and as a result, many organizations have recently taken advantage of solar energy. SokoFresh is a company that provides smallholder Kenyan farmers with “mobile cold storage units that run on 100% solar energy.” This makes cold storage facilities more accessible to lower-income farmers, reducing food waste and increasing the prosperity of Kenyan farmers.

The Negative Impact of Food Waste

Over the next 30 years, Africa’s population is estimated to increase from 15% to 25% of the world population. However, as the population grows, dire food shortages are likely to occur. One way to prevent this is by reducing food waste. Globally, more than 30% of food produced for human consumption is wasted or discarded. In Africa, food loss happens predominately in the production and distribution phases of the food system. In developed countries, more than 40% of food loss “occurs at the retail and consumer levels.”

To combat food waste in Africa, post-harvest storage is a sustainable method for preventing food loss. SokoFresh has constructed a post-harvest storage system that specifically utilizes solar energy. The method is simple as it makes for cost-effective and environmentally friendly food storage. This model can provide farmers and aggregators access to cold storage on “a need basis” using 100% solar energy.

At this point, there is no long-term data to monitor improvements in the region’s food waste. Yet, it is clear that current projects from sustainable companies such as SokoFresh have the potential to benefit Africa’s economy. Even a 1% reduction in food post-harvest losses could lead to yearly fiscal revenue of $40 million, mainly to the benefit of farmers. Solar energy and sustainable technology solutions are thus feasible methods that increase profitability and improve environmental impacts in developing nations.

Solar Energy’s Role

SokoFresh’s solar energy initiative centers on a business model that gives farmers in need access to storage for their produce. Built by the social venture studio Enviu as part of its FoodFlow program, SokoFresh can provide adequate storage conditions that supply significant market opportunities. Smallholder farmers are responsible for 90% of Kenya’s agricultural produce but lack the cold storage access that large-scale farms have. The smallholder farmers who grow avocado, mango and French beans help test the “pay-as-you-go cold storage units.”

Another solar energy innovation utilizes food waste in its technology. AuREUS is an invention created by Carvey Maigue from Mapua University in the Philippines. Utilizing “recycled crop waste,” Maigue created a compound mixed with resin to make panels that collect UV light. The panels can turn the captured light into electricity. Solutions like these provide alternative methods to traditional coal and gas methods of power. Thus, AuREUS and SokoFresh bring great promise for the future of sustainable energy.

The Future of SokoFresh

Because solar energy is the most affordable energy source, a solar energy initiative such as that of SokoFresh provides a hopeful alternative to developing countries experiencing food loss and waste. While international efforts to reduce hunger in sub-Saharan Africa have increased, most of the money has focused on boosting crop yields. A shift is now underway as companies are aiming to reduce losses instead of increasing production. SokoFresh provides an innovative solution to this problem by harnessing the power of solar energy. The future of solar energy in Kenya is hopeful. With more exposure and funding, SokoFresh can eliminate food waste and improve the nation’s wealth.

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Johannesburg Zero-Waste Grocery BusThe COVID-19 pandemic has made life more challenging for everyone, including the people living in South Africa’s largest city. Johannesburg inner-city residents are especially vulnerable during this pandemic due to unemployment and food insecurity. But there is hope. The Johannesburg zero-waste grocery bus has a mission of bringing healthy food to locals in a sustainable manner.

From Idea to Bus

The idea of a mobile grocery store was imagined by founder Ilka Stein and her team at the social enterprise ForReal. Starting in 2020, Stein and the 12 young volunteers of the ForReal team transformed an old bus into a mobile grocery store in just three months. Inside the “skhaftin bus,” metal containers are filled with dry foods, such as lentils, black beans, oats, samp, spices and brown sugar. The concept of the skhaftin bus is to bring your own “skhaftin,” a South African slang word for “lunchbox,” and fill it with the items you need. In addition to dry foods, the Johannesburg zero-waste grocery bus has paired up with Bertrams Inner City Farm to provide fresh local produce, bread, juices and sauces. Stein believes that this bus will provide many locals with access to nutritious food in an affordable and eco-friendly way.

Fill Up with Food

The Johannesburg zero-waste grocery bus plans on operating three days a week. During these three days, customers can come to the bus to pick up needed food. Procedurally, the inner-city residents bring their skhaftin and enter the front of the bus, spoon out dry goods from metal containers, pick up desired produce and finally head to the register. At the register, the customer pays according to the weight of the skhaftin and leaves through the back of the bus. Not only is it a quick food store, but it is also an environmentally conscious store.

Customers bring their own containers, which promote a plastic-free shopping experience. Additionally, the products are placed in metal tins to avoid the unnecessary use of plastic. The concept of fill-it-yourself versus pre-packaged amounts saves people from overbuying and eliminates food waste. These features aid in helping the planet as well as the poor. By eliminating excess packaging, Stein doesn’t have to pay the extra costs incurred from packaging and can lower the overall price of the skhaftin. Further, the take-what-you-need model saves the customers from paying for food that will just go to waste.

Money Matters

The affordable prices definitely draw people to the Johannesburg zero-waste grocery bus. Shoppers find they can typically get more food for less money when buying from the bus versus the local grocery store. This has been a major source of relief for those unable to find a job, especially during COVID-19 and its consequential high unemployment rates.

The Johannesburg zero-waste grocery bus provides job opportunities in addition to providing affordable food to combat poverty. Currently, Stein employs three young people from the local area to work on the bus. Stein also ensures that the bus is mindful of the surrounding businesses. The team continues to test out new parking locations so as not to interfere with local shops. The bus aims to aid the local community fight against poverty in a contentious way.

Rolling Into the Future

The Johannesburg zero-waste grocery bus plans to keep its valuable service going even when COVID-19 is no longer part of the picture. Overall, this mobile grocery store is proving to be extremely beneficial to people of inner-city Johannesburg. The food is inexpensive, nutritious, unprocessed and free from single-use plastics. Ilka Stein and her team are actively helping alleviate poverty in South Africa, one lunchbox at a time.

Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

IDPoor Card
Poverty could double in Cambodia as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, pulling an estimated 17.6% of the population below the poverty line. Faced with a shrinking economy, Cambodia teamed up with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNICEF to issue IDPoor cards, which give struggling families 176,000 riels, or about $43 per month. With an IDPoor card, a family can buy dry food ingredients and products with long shelf lives to ration throughout the month.

The IDPoor card is part of the “Cash Transfer Programme for Poor and Vulnerable Households,” a government initiative designed to help strengthen social protection in Cambodia in the face of COVID-19.  Based on the country-wide poverty identification system launched in 2007, the cash transfer programme is a game-changer for Cambodians across the region.

Inside the Cash Transfer Programme for Poor and Vulnerable Households

Each household has an entitlement to $20 or $30 monthly. Families with members of vulnerable groups–such as individuals living with disabilities or HIV–are eligible for additional monetary support.

A partnership between the UNDP, Australia and the Cambodian Ministry of Planning made the cash transfer programme possible. With 1,700 tablets and the necessary software supplied by the Australian government and the UNDP, local officials interviewed and registered families who had fallen into poverty during the pandemic. In total, nearly 700,000 people in the database received funds in a cashless form, either through their phone or a card.

The Groundwork and The Future

The U.N. worked swiftly alongside the Cambodian government, developing the IDPoor cards just three months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. The groundwork for such an agile response took the form of a 2015 pilot program that supported vulnerable mothers and children before the pandemic. The onset of COVID-19 expanded the program to include low-income families across the region. UNICEF Chief of Social Policy, Erna Ribar, noted that the expansion of the 2015 pilot occurred in hopes of “[laying] the foundations for Cambodia to develop greater resilience to future economic shocks, ultimately paving the way towards a more equal society.” As the program came to fruition, the money transfer service extended its reach to even more remote populations, some of whom were handling money electronically for the first time.

In addition to the IDPoor Card, the U.N. continues to support the Cambodian government by providing medical equipment and technical support. The U.N. has also helped the country battle the pandemic by raising awareness about COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic is among the greatest challenges in the modern world, and Cambodia believes that it should deal with it swiftly. Thus far, the country’s success in its money transferring service mirrors its success in controlling community spread. As Cambodians across the region continue to weather the economic consequences of COVID-19, the IDPoor card scheme remains a signal of hope.

Jai Phillips
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in Odisha
According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in Odisha is 33%, making it one of the most impoverished states in the country as of May 2016. Shifting weather patterns, which have imperiled the traditional crops, are further straining food supplies in the region. In 2013, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) partnered with multiple organizations, both international and local, to introduce maize to the people of Odisha. The ultimate goal of the organization is to improve food security in Odisha. The method centers on new technology, education and female empowerment.

International Aid and Local Know-How

In a widespread effort to address food security in Odisha, CIMMYT partnered with three other organizations, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), the Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society (ORMAS) and the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA). On the local level, the organization had the assistance of the State Department of Agriculture of Odisha and two federations of women’s self-help groups. This diverse network combined the financial and technological muscle of international aid with the immeasurable value of local expertise.

From Fallow to Fertile

In Odisha, 60,000 hectares of land are fallow due to farmer aversion to risk and lack of knowledge with regard to resilient farming practices. CIMMYT saw an opportunity, targeting the uncultivated plots as proving grounds for the value of maize, which requires less labor and fertilizer than wheat and paddy. Critically, maize is also cheaper than traditional crops.

CIMMYT and CSISA provided fertilizers, machines to dig up weeds and drills to sow the seeds. These types of technology increase crop yields. The results have been encouraging, as a total of 5,400 hectares of once-fallow lands now include maize crops. In northeastern Odisha, in the Mayurbhanj district, approximately 50 farmers have taken up maize cultivation, which has provided the farmers with a new source of income in December 2020.

Women Taking the Lead

Odisha is a primarily rural state. According to the World Bank, over half of the population work in farming. In order to achieve food security in Odisha, women must be able to play a larger role in the agrarian sector. Traditionally, women have had to care for the children, manage the household and support husbands in a myriad of ways. Even when women worked on the farms, it counted as “day labor,” just another manner of supporting their husbands rather than focusing on true livelihood.

CIMMYT and its affiliates worked to change this trend, relying on local women’s groups in order to foster trust and buy into the program. As a result, women have begun to take on leadership roles, a significant step toward food security in Odisha. CIMMYT boasts that 28% of the farmers who have adopted maize cultivation are women. Furthermore, the women of Odisha are prevalent within the training programs. They are graduating from gaining general awareness to specializing in specific subjects, laying the groundwork for them to take on leadership roles. During COVID-19, with many men out of work, women supported families by selling green corn.

Promising Returns

Encouraged by early indicators of success, people fighting for food security in Odisha are looking to expand efforts throughout the state. As weather patterns continue to shift, farming practices have to become more efficient and resistant. CIMMYT and its affiliates believe that all populations in Odisha, regardless of gender, should reach their full potential.

– Greg Fortier
Photo: Flickr

Addressing Food Insecurity in Palestinian Territories
In 2018, the World Food Programme reported that 68.7% of urban Palestinian territories and 67.4% of refugee camps experienced food insecurities. As the poverty rate continues to increase, COVID-19 has further damaged the nation’s economy. Despite the Palestinian market’s dependence on agriculture, many factors have affected the region including foreign occupation, insufficient governance and distanced global intervention. Palestine’s history of unsustainable farming practices and social pressures to sell land still exist, making food insecurity in Palestinian territories an ongoing struggle.

A History of Hunger

Poverty has affected these regions since the early 15th century as governing entities have deterred progression in agricultural advancement. Until the 1920s, the British occupation of Palestinian territories did not emphasize its agricultural sectors, leaving many farmers with elementary techniques.

In the 1950s, the neighboring Israeli state emerged, vastly increasing economic competition. The Arab-Israeli War of 1948  resulted in widespread poverty, creating an overflow of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. The rule of the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank in the 1950s changed land and water policies and increased taxation on Palestinian lands. Shortly after, Israeli’s markets began to bleed into Palestinian territories, and the two nations’ economies began to blend. Many Palestinians became the cheap labor source under the Israeli market system.

Considering the lack of diplomatic unity and relocation of labor and resources, the state of Palestine has never had a chance to renovate agricultural practices to sustain a consistent food source. One major source of stagnation exists that perpetuates the cycle of economic recession and insufficient production in Palestinian territories: the neighboring Israeli nation. Palestinian resources often go to Israeli markets due to the merging of the two nations’ economies. With Palestinian refugees working within Israel’s economy, Palestinian land, water, livestock and agriculture sectors work to fuel the neighboring commercial systems, deducting from Palestinian progress or self-efficiency.

An Ongoing Challenge

In 2021, Palestinians are still facing severe food insecurity along the Gaza Strip, battling various levels of poverty that the pandemic exacerbated. State efforts have undergone fragmentation, as the governing body is thinly spread between responding to COVID-19, severe food insecurity and the Israeli threat of annexation of the West Bank.

To combat this turbulence and provide aid to Palestinian territories, the UNRWA and IRUSA have collaborated to donate $2.44 million to provide COVID-19 relief and support food security. These nonprofit organizations target refugees and children in need of food assistance and contribute to education, health, food, livelihood and women’s initiatives.

Though these U.S. organizations have supplied funding to alleviate some poverty and food insecurity in Palestinian territories, these projects are temporary assistance because the problem has not experienced complete elimination.

Systemic Solutions

In efforts to mitigate the recession, Palestinian sectors are taking part in “agro-resistance” to reclaim independence and labor. Localization tactics are constantly circulating; the Palestinian people participate in nonviolent demonstrations and work to redefine methods of agriculture. Locals work together to catch rainwater from rooftops, preserve and catalog seeds and create gardens within households to support self-sustainability.

The most crucial advancement within this process is the education of farmers. Nonprofit organizations such as the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and Ma’an Permaculture Center work with the locals to reduce food insecurity in Palestinian territories and to rebuild the economy. The effort still continues as each sector receives education and renovation, even amid COVID-19 and existing poverty.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Zero-Waste SolutionsThai researcher Sorawut Kittibanthorn is looking into how to transform the nutrient component found in chicken feathers into a powder that can be turned into a protein-rich source of edible food that can be used in a variety of dishes. Prototypes including his version of chicken nuggets and a steak substitute have received some positive feedback. Kittibanthorn feels chicken feathers have the potential of becoming an alternative food substitute that can reduce poverty and food insecurity. Kittibanthorn and others are determined to promote zero-waste solutions in an effort to reduce global waste and promote sustainability while addressing global poverty and hunger.

Chicken Feather Waste

The poultry market is a booming industry. Chickens are one of the most commonly consumed meat products in the world and poultry is a cultural and economic staple in many countries. The bird feathers, however, produce mass waste. In the U.K. alone, chicken farms discard around 1,000 tons of feathers per week. Few companies have taken notice of the potential behind these unwanted goods. Feathers have a high source of keratin protein, making the feathers ideal sources of insulation, plastic or animal feed. The findings of Kittibanthorn are unique and shift the conversation toward a multi-pronged solution in combating global hunger using creative solutions.

On top of reducing waste, Kittibanthorn maintains the idea that chicken feathers can be repurposed for elegant, elevated dining. The destigmatization of food waste is not completely unprecedented in the culinary world. Michelin star chef, Massimo Bottura, utilized a trash-to-table dining model in 2018 by recovering surplus ingredients to make nutritious and delicious meals for a community. Food waste is a largely uncomfortable issue around the world and the U.S. alone generates 40 million tons per year. By utilizing solutions similar to Kittibanthorn and Bottura, many countries could work toward resolving the issue of world hunger through zero-waste solutions.

A Zero-Waste Future

Utilizing chicken feathers as a zero-waste solution to combat poverty would fall in line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, which include seeking to end hunger and improve nutrition. In the context of agricultural initiatives, chicken feathers open the conversation on the collaboration between innovations like feather-based foods and organizations that promote crop diversity.

The Borgen Project spoke with Rodrigo Barrios, strategic partnerships manager at the nonprofit organization, the Crop Trust. Barrios explains how crop diversity includes two elements of action: use and conservation. Barrios told The Borgen Project about the organization’s program called The Food Forever Initiative. The Food Forever Initiative seeks to enlighten the community with crop usability by connecting chefs to less popular crops and giving chefs the agency to promote agrobiodiversity. Barrios says that promoting crop diversity would also help reduce poverty. In a similar fashion, Barrios states “we identify all biodiversity, internationally, that is fundamental for food security and nutrition and agriculture and we ensure that the gene banks are funded in perpetuity, provided they are up to standard.” The Crop Trust’s goals align with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. The organization seeks to build more funding to support long-term conservation initiatives as zero-waste solutions.

The Road Ahead

The practice of repurposing materials that are typically disposed of, such as chicken feathers, has great potential to reduce poverty and push for more sustainable market practices including zero-waste solutions. Trends and practices related to repurposing materials would promote ethical decisions in the private sector, help communities with nutrition security and connect agronomics to crop supporting initiatives.

Danielle Han
Photo: Flickr

Canadian Food BanksCanadian food banks have been providing meals for those in need across Canada for the past 40 years. The more than 11,000 food banks in Canada saw a spike in clients in 2020, with a report of more than 1.1 million people going to food banks in March alone. Additionally, in 2020, 20,000 people a week used food banks in Canada, up significantly from 15,000 a week in 2019. However, food banks and donators have doubled their efforts amid COVID-19 to address food insecurity in Canada.

Food Insecurity in Canada

The 2019 Food Insecurity Policy Research report states that in 2018 one in eight households was food insecure. Moreover, in 2018, 4.4 million people ranged between marginal food insecurity (with roughly 1.5 million people), moderate food insecurity (with roughly two million people) and severe food insecurity (with roughly 500,000 thousand people) in those tiers.

Within the provinces, Nunavut reported the worst level of food insecurity at 57%, and the Northwest territories at 27%. The rest of the provinces, such as Yukon, faired a bit better at 16.9%, with the Quebec province being the lowest at only 11.8%. Additionally, 84% of those who reported food insecurity live in either Ontario, Alberta, Quebec or British Columbia.

Compared to reports in 2015-2016, food insecurity in the province of Nunavut rose roughly by 6% between 2017-2018 from 51% to 57%. In the Northwest Territories food insecurity rose by 7% from 20% to 27%, Yukon remained the same, British Columbia remained the same at 12% and Quebec went down 1% from 12% to 11%.

Food Banks’ Donations

In 2020, donations rose by approximately 5% in food banks across Canada, and they received over 24 billion pounds of food. It went up more than a million dollars compared to 2019, with a total of $24 million in food donations. In 2019, food banks received a total of $64 million of donations of all varieties, which was an overall decline from $54 million in total donations in 2020.

These statistics indicate 2019 was a drastically more prosperous year. However, 2020 saw an outflow of $56 million back to the people through other donated goods, money to other food banks and money donated overall back to the community. In contrast, 2019 only saw a $9 million return to the community.

In 2020, food banks had a higher return of goods back to the public than monetary donations, with over a $2 million difference. The demand is so high it begs the question of what is being done to help support food banks and Canadians in need.

Alternative Solutions for the Hungry

Canadians who may need to use food banks fall into several categories: people lacking the skills necessary for labor jobs within the Canadian market, the loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs, pensions not covering the basics, and inadequate programs to help those in serious need. Various reports have shown the several ways in which the Canadian government can better help those who are at risk of going hungry.

One way to address hunger insecurity is to increase investments in federal housing. Creating housing such as social housing that is controlled by the government results in capped rental prices, allowing vulnerable populations to pay rent each month at an affordable level. Addressing the higher levels of food security in the northern regions is another important goal. The Canadian Government should focus on areas such as Nunavut that have the highest rates of food insecurity.

Canada Child Benefit

Another way to provide more effective support to low-income families with children is to replace the current range of federal child benefits with a strengthened Canada Child Benefit. The Canada Child Benefit provides financial support to eligible families that have children under the age of 18. While the benefit does support households to a degree, it has not been seen as nearly enough. Moreover, the more funding given to families in need, the less likely they are to be food insufficient.

Thanks to the work of the Canadian food banks, thousands of people can enjoy hot meals. However, a sustainable solution to food insecurity must also include other solutions and government programs to eradicate hunger in Canada.

– Claire Olmstead
Photo: Flickr

Vertical FarmingThe new AI-run vertical farming plantation brings new possibilities to agriculture and efficient production, as Plenty, an ag-tech company, co-founded by Nate Storey, proves there is now more benefit than cost to vertical farming. By utilizing robots and artificial intelligence systems to regulate LED sunlight panels, watering systems and pest control, this futuristic method has surpassed its previous form of being too expensive and complex.

Vertical Farming

Through the current transitions made toward maximizing agricultural use of AI, farming today has already begun employing drones and smart robots to remove weeds or spread herbicides efficiently. Greenfield Robotics had already released different functional fleets active in certain farms. Now, Plenty utilizes similar technologies with robots harvesting and organizing plants in the vertical farming stations. Fundamentals such as water, temperature and light are systematically calculated and regulated through smart systems that prioritize a greater, faster and better crop turnout.

Benefits of AI-Run Vertical Farming

Through artificial intelligence, farmers are now able to adopt a more eco-friendly methodology. Robots and machine learning promote certain technologies such as tracking soil composition, moisture content, crop humidity and optimal crop temperatures. Despite the previous vertical farming history and cost-benefit analysis, modern-day AI-run vertical farming allows certain resources to be recycled, controlled and reused. This can be seen in AI-run water filtration systems that catch evaporated water from the farms or indoor energy renewal systems.

Alleviating Agricultural Issues

These innovations alleviate many issues that arise in agriculture and distribution. The most notable feat is the space that vertical farming saves in comparison to traditional farmland regions. Plenty’s vertical farm covers two acres and yields similar, if not better, harvest and product quality to that of a 750-acre flat farm. Plenty’s website expresses its greatest feat yet: “Imagine a 1,500-acre farm. Now imagine that fitting inside your favorite grocery store, growing up to 350 times more.”

Plenty also points out the freedom AI-run vertical farming brings to agriculture today. By being independent and self-sufficient with consistent sunlight, recycled water and a controlled environment, farming is no longer restricted to natural inconsistencies. Climate change and weather patterns do not determine the outcome of the produce, due to this new ability to control the necessary components to production. In light of COVID-19 and wildfires that breakdown supply chains, this factor prevents unprecedented shutdowns of essential services in agriculture.

AI-run vertical farming allows farms to exist within metropolitan sectors instead of weather-dependent regions. By having a closer source, distribution is more efficient leading to less CO2 emissions and dependency on preservatives. This method also allows cost reduction, since transportation, product cost and labor are reduced, which allows impoverished communities access to better produce.

The Future of AI-Run Vertical Farming

All things considered, this new innovative alternative brings a cleaner and more sustainable future for agriculture, whether it be in produce quality or carbon footprint. With Plenty’s ongoing environmental adjustments and technological updates, the organization continues to expand its service, with a $400 million investment capital from Softbank, Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos and former Google chairman, Eric Schmidt. Plenty has also partnered with Albertsons to supply 430 stores in California.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Lab-Grown MeatIn the effort to reduce poverty around the world, scientific innovations and technological solutions are welcomed. Developments in technological capabilities provide new potential approaches to reducing poverty. One such development that has received increased attention is the emergence of lab-grown meat as an alternative source of food for populations in developing countries. Lab-grown meat has only emerged as a potential solution quite recently, and even at this young stage of development, there are many who argue both for and against its potential effectiveness and applicability in the effort to reduce poverty.

Lab-Grown Meat

Lab-grown meat, known alternatively as cultured meat, is an alternative application of stem cell technology typically used in medicine. Stem cells are extracted from an animal and converted to muscle cells. The cells are then cultured on a scaffold with nutrients and essential vitamins. From this point, they grow and can eventually be shaped into any desired form, such as sausages, hamburgers, steaks or mince. Lab-grown meat is being considered as a potential solution to food insecurity in impoverished countries as it takes much less time to grow, uses fewer of the planet’s resources and no animals need to be farmed or slaughtered.

The Arguments Against Cultured Meat

Those against the implementation of cultured meat as a tool in the struggle against world poverty point firstly to the impracticality of current production. The world’s first cultured burger, cooked on live TV in 2013, cost $330,000 to produce and more of its kind might not be commercially available for decades.

In addition to the practicality issue, critics also argue that providing meat grown in foreign labs to developing countries is not ultimately constructive. It creates a dependence on exports for food when most developing countries have the capabilities to produce their own food.

Most African and Asian countries used to be self-sufficient with regard to food production but this has changed over the last 30 years. Subsidized western-grown crops have been pushed on developing countries and barriers to markets have been lowered, allowing U.S. and European firms to export crops to developing countries.

Poverty Reduction Applicability

Kanayo Nwanze former president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), presented an argument in 2013 which has maintained support today. The argument is that the decline of agriculture in developing countries has been an effect of underinvestment as a result of structural adjustment programs pushed by the World Bank. The World Bank has funded numerous investment programs in recent years that aim to provide developing nations with western food as a means of poverty alleviation. Some argue that this is not a sustainable solution and will only lead developing nations to be dependent in the future. Instead of investing in big science, those looking to reduce global poverty should focus on supporting rural regions and small farmers.

Eat Just: Cultured Meat

Despite the existing criticism of cultured meat, supporters of this developing technology have reason to be optimistic. In December 2020, U.S. startup, Eat Just, became the first in the world to gain government approval to sell its product to the public. This approval came from the government of Singapore, which means cultured chicken will soon be available at an unnamed restaurant in Singapore. This is a landmark development for the cultured meat business. Following this gain of approval, more governments around the world may follow suit. According to Eat Just, cultured chicken nuggets will be available at “price parity for premium chicken you’d enjoy at a restaurant.”

The Potential of Lab-Grown Meat

The debate around the effectiveness of cultured meat as a tool in poverty reduction is justified and indeed necessary. Only after serious consideration and scrutiny does any new idea earn approval and the right to be implemented. Though right now it may seem that there are more arguments against its implementation than for, this is largely due to the novelty surrounding the idea. The technology and industry with regards to lab-grown meat as a whole are still in the early stages of development. The idea of lab-grown meat as a potential solution to hunger and poverty is being followed eagerly by supporters and skeptically by critics. Only time will tell whether this novel idea succeeds or falls short.

– Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr