The global population is projected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 – up from 7.6 Billion today. This population growth along with city expansions are having major consequences, driving a lack of growing space and food in many parts of the world. Add to this the concerns of extreme weather events that will disrupt food production, and you have a scenario that forces us to find creative solutions. According to various statistics, 795 million people don’t have enough food; and keeping pace with population growth requires a focused effort on realizing food abundance.
The way we grow food hasn’t fundamentally changed in ten thousand years of agriculture. But that is about to change, as the convergence of science and technology enables this future of food abundance. The food section of our innovation wheel envisions the innovation likely to address the growing challenges. For example, regions with financial capital may invest in the latest micro-filtration technologies, thus allowing constant recycling of waste water into drinkable water. As technology improves, and costs fall, the issues associated with desalination, namely high energy usage and residual salt, could be resolved to such a degree that it becomes affordable to coastal regions all over the world. Additionally, fruits and vegetables might be grown in buildings controlled by AI rather than on farms. This recent article on Vertical Farming describes this phenomenon very well.
According to Wikipedia, Vertical farming is the practice of producing food and medicine in vertically stacked layers, vertically inclined surfaces and/or integrated in other structures (such as in a skyscraper, used warehouse, or shipping container). The modern ideas of vertical farming use indoor farming techniques and controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) technology, where many environmental factors can be controlled.
Other innovations on our wheel include meat grown in labs, the widespread consumption of 3D printed food, and hydroponic plants, fruits, and vegetables. All this innovation will change agriculture as we know it, helping to revolutionize the food industry. Having AI-controlled hydroponic vertical farms on the sides of buildings might be one of those innovations. Like every scenario that society must track, the food scenario comes with a set of Unintended Consequences. What potential unintended consequences emerge as we move towards food abundance? The Future Today Institute describes a scenario where high-tech local microfarms upend the status quo for supply chains built around conventional agriculture and supermarkets. They envision a possible future where the shift impacts everyone from merchants and importers to truck drivers and UPC code sticker providers. Food shortage driven by extreme weather is also likely to drive a migration from impacted regions to countries like the U.S. and Europe; creating a humanitarian crisis.