LandLessFood - Concept for a sustainable global food system in 2100
To guarantee food security until the year 2100 and protect the environment, new concepts for the global food system are necessary. In this project the potential of bioreactors as components of circular, sustainable agricultural systems is investigated.
The idea for the LandLessFood project was first mentioned and developed in 2015 at the Organic Expo in South Korea (Rahmann et al. 2017).
To feed a global population of 11.2 billion people or more in the year 2100, fundamental changes in the global food system are necessary, from production, to distribution to consumption. Especially Africa is faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. About 80% of global population growth until the end of the century is expected here – an increase from 1.2 to 4.4 billion people – and even the lowest estimations by the United Nations predict a triplication of the population. Since Africa already has a large agricultural trade deficit and is not self-sufficient in the production of important staple crops like rice or maize, it is not surprising that the need for agricultural expansion drives the over-exploitation of natural resources. But even if all African forests and infertile savannah were to be converted to agricultural land, there would be less space available for food production per person in Africa in 2100 then there is today. Resources that are necessary for agricultural intensification and for crop production on infertile soils, such as phosphate, water and fossil fuels are becoming increasingly rare and expensive. Organic agriculture, in which these resources are used more responsibly, takes up more space to produce the same yields and is thus often dismissed as an alternative. To be able to establish a sustainable form of agriculture in Africa on the large scale, a new concept is needed, in which not only agricultural land is used for sustainable farming but food production and nutrient circulation is extended to other areas as well. This is most important for urban areas, where most people will live, in Africa as in the rest of the world.
In this project we want to design and evaluate a concept in which African food sovereignty is possible, by analyzing data-sets, literature and by holding a workshop with experts from different essential fields with relevance to the food system and infrastructural planning in Africa. The goal is to make concrete research recommendations by the end of the project. We particularly focus on bioreactors, since this is perhaps the most spatially efficient option for biomass production in cities and more resource efficient than other forms of landless food production such as vertical farming, which largely depend on the same inputs as conventional agriculture. Since water purification will be one of the most important challenges in the African mega-cities of the future, bioreactors will have to play a role anyway. However, not only the heterotroph bioreactors, which are already common in water purification, but also autotroph photobioreactors have large potential, especially if these two reactor types are linked in a circular system. Microalgae and cyanobacteria cultivated in photobioreactors convert sunlight to biomass with six to twelve times more efficiency than crops such as maize and can have very high starch and/or lipid and protein contents. When applied as one of the last steps of wastewater treatment, they can take up nutrients, as well as CO2 from heterotroph bioreactors and provide not only purified, oxygen-enriched water, but also organic fertilizer, food, feed and biofuel. This would save land and resources and could enable a more sustainable mode of production on agricultural land. The long-term goal of this project: to free up one hectare of cropland with one square meter of reactor space.
Think tanks for novel food systems
The project will go for 24 months from 2018 to 2020. This period will be divided into four phases.
The main scientific goals will be:
10.2018 - 9.2023
Project status: ongoing