Anab Jain’s TED talk presents an insightful view of the extraordinary times we live in.
To get a clearer idea of what this new world might look like in the future, we asked Andrew Swift, CEO, Capita Fera, how technology will revolutionise the global food supply chain.
Rapid global population growth – combined with extensive levels of poverty and uncertainty around food supplies – are making the need for intensive food production in our planet greater than ever.
But this growth must be sustainable. Deforestation has been taking place at an alarming rate for many years – in some emerging nations, simply to support a farming economy – and this has had a disastrous impact on the environment. Dealing with food waste is also a major source of damaging airborne emissions. Chemicals like ammonia, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane are all emitted through intensive agriculture and decomposing food. Product packaging presents a huge challenge. Glass bottles can take over 1,000 years to bio-degrade and plastic packaging, such as PET, takes almost 500 years.
The good news is that international bodies – like the World Economic Forum – some governments, and many consumers, are aware of – and active in – responding to these challenges. The more the pressure builds, the more nations will be forced to act.
One innovation that could provide a solution to a number of these challenges – addressing both threats to food, farming and the environment collectively – is insect biomass conversion for protein production. Indeed, the World Economic Forum highlights insect-derived proteins as a particularly suitable supplement to existing diets.
It sounds space-aged, but it’s remarkably simple. The larvae of the black soldier fly can be used as a rapid source of safe protein. It increases its body mass by 5,000x in 15 days, at which point you harvest the larvae and extract the protein. Additionally, the mass of protein it produces per unit of farm surface area is phenomenally greater than that of a cow, sheep or even a chicken.
The larvae can consume large volumes of food waste and agricultural residues, meaning the whole process is self-sustaining – creating a circular economy. Insect biomass conversion can now produce protein at significant volumes in a sustainable manner and from a vastly smaller footprint per gram of protein when compared with conventional livestock or arable farming processes.
What’s more, one of the by-products of the process, chitin, the skin of fly larvae, could potentially be developed into sustainably sourced packaging material which can biodegrade in just months or years – unlike the petroleum-based packaging materials that are employed today. The other by-products – oils and fats – are similarly valuable as feed supplements or for use as essential oils in the healthcare industry, as an organic soil nutrient.
It’s early days and there are significant challenges to overcome in scaling up insect biomass conversion to industrial levels, but exciting proof of concept and scaled examples are already being demonstrated in Europe, North America and South Africa.
Developments are taking place closer to home, too. At Capita Fera, we’re engaged with UK industry stakeholders who see the potential to convert waste biomass into protein for animal feed at industrial scale.
Whatever the destination, the world is waking up to both the challenge and opportunity of sustainable living.