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Food security stories 1 – countries and regions that lack availability of land or suitability of climate

Introduction

 

The mission of Wageningen MFC is providing good food for everyone in an urbanizing world. Food security is always one of the major fields of our business. We help our clients solving food security problems, with a co-design approach and implementing the six principles of the MFC concept.

 

As the current war in Ukraine and the sanctions being imposed on Russia accelerate the rise of agri-food commodity prices and disruption of agri-food logistics and supply, national and regional food security is once again becoming a priority on different countries’ agenda.

 

Wageningen MFC developed diagnostic instruments to position a country or region on a scale ranging from completely import-dependent to completely self-sufficient (and even exporting substantial surpluses). We categorize four types of countries or regions, based on our project experience and our research on food security:

  1. Countries and regions with unavailability of land and/or unsuitability of climate,
  2. Countries and regions with massive population pressure,
  3. Countries and regions with a disrupted link between urban and rural development,
  4. Countries and regions with surplus agri-food production.

It is necessary to mention that every region or country has its unique situation, and that the solutions that we are co-designing are tailor-made for improving a specific country or region’s food security to surpass a critical threshold for survival in ‘worst case’ situations, whether it is caused by extreme (or worsening) climate conditions, lack of space, high demographic pressure, general economic under-development, or geo-political tensions. 

 

Here, we elaborate our general view and strategies for each type of country or region to improve food security. 

 

Type 1: Countries and regions with unavailability of land and/or unsuitability of climate

 

Singapore and part of the Middle East (such as Qatar and United Arab Emirates) represent typical countries or regions that lack either land or a suitable climate for agri-food production. For instance, as one of the countries with the highest population density, Singapore imports over 90% of its food. A large part of the Middle East has an extremely hot and dry climate combined with poor soil fertility making it almost impossible to produce its own food with traditional methods.

 

Our general strategies for this type of countries and regions are to create suitable production conditions through state-of-art technologies and to maximize resource use efficiency.

 

State-of-the-art technologies are needed to create fully-closed land- and climate independent production systems, such as glass greenhouses, vertical farms with full artificial lighting, and stables with animals kept inside year-round. With such strong isolation, it is more efficient to create optimal production conditions for plants and animals, as well as to enhance the bio-security level.

The small pictures from left to right represent different production systems – from complete open system to fully closed system with controlled climate, water, light, minerals and bio-based pest management. As a result, in a fully closed system, it is feasible to produce around 75 kg (or even more) of tomatoes per hectare of land, with 5 L of water per kilogram. As a stark contrast, in a completely open system the land productivity is around 5 kg/ha only, while water consumption is as high as 60 L/kg of tomatoes. 

 

Recycling is another approach to reach resource-use-efficiency. Integration of different supply chains increases options for recycling, using one supply chain’s co-products as an input for another. To guarantee the efficiency, safety and bio-security during the recycling and production process, adequate intermediate technologies or approaches are necessary. For instance, Black Solider Fly (BSF) can transform co-products from food processing industries (like bakeries, breweries, and vegetable processing) into animal feed components (fats and proteins) and fertiliser. Since September 2021 the EU has authorised the use of insect proteins in poultry and pig feed, the use in aquaculture has been allowed since 2017 already. 

 

This is a design we have made for a local egg producer in Singapore in 2016. BSF was introduced in the design as an alternative feed source for the egg production as well as an extra source of income by selling BAF-feed ingredients for other animal producers. Next to the circular production of feed, fertilizer can also be produced in a circular way through manure treatment. 

On the one hand, due to the implementation of advanced technologies in fully closed systems, capital expenses (CAPEX) are expected to be relatively high compared to mid-tech, low-tech or fully land-dependent systems. On the other hand, most of the countries whose food security problems are caused by a combination of lack of land and an extreme climate have a strong financial position. Moreover, due to the high production efficiency and resource-use-efficiency, the operational expenses (OPEX) – e.g. for waster, feed, power, human resources, etc. – are significantly lower. The overall result is a higher profitability of the more advanced systems.

 

Wageningen MFC closely works with a wide range of state-of-the-art technology providers who can provide the most efficient closed production systems as well as intermediate technologies (for feed, energy, nutrients and organic matter, and water) that enable a tailor-made circular system. Moreover, together with them, we develop the curricula needed to train the skilled workforce necessary to operate, maintain and innovate the resulting agroparks and metropolitan food clusters.

 

To read about other types of countries or regions and their food security challenges:

In the coming weeks, we will post elaborations of the rest types of countries or regions. Stay tuned!