Daily Archives: July 19, 2016

Environmental Sustentation 23: Food Shortages

Food shortages are an ongoing concern. They have been since before global food reserves hit a fifty year low a few years ago and will continue to be as global population continues to grow to the point where we will be pushing the planet’s limits (under current technology) to support us. This is scary given that over 800 Million people, 11% of the population, are currently food insecure, as this number is only going to increase as time goes on.

But it’s not just the social viewpoint that is scary, as the corporate viewpoint is also scary. Every time there is a shortage in any commodity, prices spike, and as far as suppliers are concerned, contracts be damned.

If a significant portion of a supplier’s crops are wiped out and it doesn’t have enough to satisfy its contracts, it can claim force majeure, and unless your organization is the one paying the most, it’s going to start by claiming force majeure on you and your supply is out the window.

We’re still in the situation where most crops are grown in fields, and not greenhouses, and this demands the right climate. Sun and warmth, a sufficiently long growing season, an absence of pest swarms, and an absence of natural disasters. But we are in a situation where we have unbearable heatwaves and unexpected cold snaps, both of which destroy crops. Growing seasons are sometimes unpredictable. Pests are becoming more devastating as there is less and less undeveloped green areas for them to feed on. And disasters are in the process of increasing five-fold over a fifty-year period.

So what can you do?

1. Geographically remote sources of supply.

The weather is not the same all over, and most natural disasters are limited to a small geographic area (on a global scale). Thus, if you have multiple sources of geographically distributed supply, the chances of your entire supply being wiped out in a single shot are small. You might lose some supply, but you will still have some supply and with the right supplier mix, you might be able to eek out a bit more.

2. Greenhouses when possible.

Yes, greenhouses have a higher carbon footprint than fields, but some plants grow faster and better in controlled environments — especially certain herbs, fruits, and similar plants. If they have a short growing season, and the greenhouse can be kept at peak capacity, for certain crops, this can actually be a better, more reliable, option.

3. Waste Not, Want Not.

Strive for 0 waste in the food supply chain. In an average food supply chain, up to 30% (or more) of food is wasted during picking, transportation, and processing. This is not a made up stat — according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a third of the food currently produced never reaches our plates (Source). Invest in efficient harvesting techniques, proper storage, proper transportation, and low-waste processing technology so that this statistic is reduced from over a third to less than 10%. (The goal should be zero waste, but that is hard. However, reducing waste by two thirds is not. Start there, and improve over time.)

4. Variety.

For example, there are hundreds of natural varieties of tomatoes, beans, and other plants. Don’t restrict your recipes and buys to a single variety … diversity, and you will have a better chance of assured supply.

5. Be Prepared for the Worst.

Always have backup plans and alternatives. Some product lines might have to be temporarily suspended, but others can be brought in to fill in the gaps.