Is a crisis of greens and proteins imminent?
According to estimates, the world’s population will hit 10 billion by the year 2050. Along with the challenges of housing, sanitation, and social services comes the all-important one of food for hungry mouths.
Tucked away in little laboratories, scientists are already at work trying to figure out not just what food can be made available but also where these can be grown.
Growing industrialization, clearing forests for accommodation, and the devastating impact of climate change are coming in the way.
By now the war on organic food is all but lost and genetically modified food with all of its risks looms large. Genetically modified (GM) food has already been proven to be short on natural nutrients and long on harmful additives, and it is this that foxes scientists.
The other battle being lost to lifestyle choices is the fast diminishing rainforests, much of which create the basic order of nature’s sustainability.
Heatwaves, seasonal forest fires, and unseasonal storms and typhoons are indicative of the harm that we are committing to nature.
The demands for natural protein are creating pressure on artificial insemination of cattle and poultry so much so that there’s further pressure on natural greenery.
This has given rise to the previously unheard of consumption of insects as forms of protein instead of cattle.
It will take time for palates to develop before such insects become part of a healthy diet but are already in vogue in parts of Asia and Africa. This is gradually moving to the West in fried form topped up with sauces and cream.
With multiple cropping already pressurizing the ability of soil to refresh itself till the monsoon rain and floods create natural rejuvenation, it has become a must to prevent urban residential areas from being developed in an unplanned manner thereby reducing natural cropland.
The prime minister has already sounded a warning on this score, but until concrete steps are taken, cropland will continue to recede in the face of more homes that are required.
The worrying aspect is that building construction is extending to rural areas as hapless farmers don’t find decent prices for their crops. One example has been the bumper production of rice at ridiculous prices that caused protests through the burning of crops.
The government responded by slapping import tariffs on rice, except that it was on the superior quality product rather than the usually consumed mid and lower quality rice.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has done some sterling work in coming up with hybrid varieties, but these are of lower quality variety. Even the government found it hard to sell course rice at Tk10 per kg, way below production cost, through its open market sale.
It’s time we had our own laboratories incorporated with the IRRI to experiment with green produce and protein varieties before the world starts selling us varieties at a premium.
At the end of the day, it’s business after all.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.