Episode 4

How to feed 10 Billion people

How and what we eat, and where our food comes from, these everyday choices that we often think very little about, have become increasingly relevant to climate change. 

With a global population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, it is not unreasonable to ask: how are we going to feed all these people... and without causing more damage?

In this episode we’ll cover everything from how climate change will affect the way we grow and eat food, to the pros and cons of ‘non-poo’ fertiliser. Sound appetising?

Giles Oldroyd, professor of plant science at the new Cambridge Crop Science Centre, Helen Anne Curry, lecturer in the history of modern science and technology, and developmental economist, Shailaja Fennell, helped us connect the dots between food and climate change. They discuss how we ensure people around the world will still have food to eat as the climate becomes more unpredictable.

In this episode:

0:00 - Intro

01:30 - Why food production is relevant to climate change.

03:15 - Are we eating more? And are we eating more of the wrong kind of things?

05:30 - The reliance on the chemical industry and the role of inorganic fertilisers

08:30 - What are the main crops that we currently rely on globally?

13:15 - Are we eating less varieties of these crops?

14:35 - Why is it so important to maintain a wide genetic diversity of crops?

18:10 - Recap

21:02 - What crops are at risk due to climate change?

22:25 - How will agriculture adapt to a changing climate?

26:45 - The carbon footprint and the water footprint of agriculture.

29:33 - What can we learn from history and the past 100 years?

31:30 - Will food become more expensive?

35:35 - Recap

38:30 - Will there be a shortfall between what we produce now and what we will need to produce by 2050?

39:50 - Can we address global inequities in the food system?

44:15 - What do we need from leaders and policymakers?

45:50 - Reasons to be optimistic

50:00 - Recap and what's next.

This episode was produced by Nick Saffell, James Dolan, and Naomi Clements-Brod. 

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Guest Bios: 

Dr Helen Anne Curry (@hacurry)

My current research focuses on the history of efforts to understand and use crop diversity as a resource for agricultural development. In August 2020 I launched the project 'From Collection to Cultivation: Historical Perspectives on Crop Diversity and Food Security'. This project has its origins in my investigation of history of genetic conservation, especially the preservation of seeds and other plant materials in seed and gene banks. It is also the subject of my current book project, Endangered Maize: Indigenous Corn, Industrial Agriculture and the Crisis of Extinction

Dr Shailaja Fennell (@shailajafennell) 

Shailaja Fennell is a Co-Investigator on TIGR2ESS, a research programme to study how to improve crop productivity and water use, identify appropriate crops and farming practices for sustainable rural development. She is also a Co-Investigator on MillNeti, a sister research programme (2019-2021) that is focussed on how to improve iron nutrition status of people living in Ethiopia and The Gambia by assessing the bioavailability of iron from biofortified millet. Her work package focuses on the use of quantitative and qualitative surveys to understand how millets are currently grown, processed, cooked and consumed in focus villages in The Gambia and Ethiopia. 

Both Helen and Shailaja are part of the Global Food Security IRC Steering Committee, a virtual network of researchers across the University, from crop scientists and engineers to specialists in policy, economics and public health. TIGR2ESS and MillNeti are examples of interdisciplinary approaches that set out to address the challenge of ensuring all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life. 

Professor Giles Oldroyd (@gilesdoldroyd) 

Professor Giles Oldroyd studies the mechanisms by which plants form beneficial interactions with micro-organisms, both bacteria and fungi, that aid in the uptake of nutrients from the environment, including nitrogen. A long-term aim of this research is to reduce agricultural reliance on inorganic fertilisers and he currently heads an international programme funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to engineer nitrogen-fixing cereals.

About the Podcast

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Mind Over Chatter
Welcome to Mind Over Chatter, the Cambridge University Podcast! One series at a time, we break down complex issues into simple questions.

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