Newswise — There’s a surging undercurrent of alarm that we’re headed for a food doomsday by 2050—that the world’s food-producing capacity will crash before population peaks at 10 billion. But in this special report, IEEE Spectrum shows that the pessimists are wrong— that smart technology and better management and policies will let us feed the hungry hordes to mid-century and beyond. It’s true that we need new technologies to grow more and better food using fewer chemicals and less land, water, energy, labor, and capital, while causing less damage to the environment. But as Spectrum’s writers and experts explain in this issue, it’s also a fact that those technologies are now being developed, tested, or applied all over the world. In the meantime, technology has greatly upped the ante in the food options available in any supermarket in any developed country. Such a supermarket probably stocks 15 000 to 50 000 different products, including items like organic red quinoa and Tahitian vanilla beans. In the produce section are about 100 different kinds of fruits and a like number of vegetables. The packaged food section has snacks that are scientifically formulated to trigger addictive responses while retaining their freshness for months, if not years. And it’s all ridiculously cheap: A typical family in a developed country spends less than 15 percent of its disposable income on food. In the United States it is just 9.8 percent. We are rich in food beyond all prior dreams, and technology will ensure that it will stay that way for decades to come.
“Why the Pessimists Are Wrong,” by Keith Fuglie (Philip Ross, 212-419-7562, [email protected]). Farmers could feed the world indefinitely if the right investments are made now.
“Farming by the Numbers,” by Ariel Bleicher, 212-419-7559, [email protected]. Precision agriculture brings computing’s accuracy to the ancient art of cultivation.
“I Spy Thy Rye,” by Dave Levitan (Samuel K. Moore, 212-419-7921, [email protected]). Satellites can help gauge crop yields and predict famine.
“An Industrial Revolution in Genetics,” by Samuel K. Moore (212-419-7921, [email protected]) and Eliza Strickland (212-419-7505, [email protected]). Plant breeders are engineering the next generation of supercrops.
“Why Africa Can Feed Itself—and Feed the World Too,” by G. Pascal Zachary (Jean Kumagai, 212-419-7551, [email protected]). For the first time in a half century, farming in Africa is booming.
“The Indoor Farm,” by Harry Goldstein, 212-419-7573, [email protected]. Urban Organics plans to grow fish, greens, and maybe the whole indoor aquaponics industry.
“Muscling Out Meat,” by Glenn Zorpette, 212-419-7580, [email protected]. Can technology produce a protein good enough to help us control our damaging desire for animal flesh?
“Tracking Every Tomato,” by Eliza Strickland, 212-419-7505, [email protected]. Radio tags in the supply chain can improve food safety.
“Waste Not, Want Not,” by Tekla S. Perry, 650-328-7570, [email protected]. A little Oregon company is chipping away at the mountainous problem of food waste.
“IBM’s Taste Master,” by Valerie Ross (Ariel Bleicher, 212-419-7559, [email protected]). Cognitive computing takes on a new frontier: meal planning.
“Tasty Morxels,” by Nathan Myhrvold and Pablos Holman (Tekla S. Perry, 650-328-7570, [email protected]). Future food compositors will fabricate haute cuisine from scratch.