How to feed the world’s growing population without creating unintended environmental damage will be the focus of an international expert panel event at the UK’s House of Lords next week.

Titled ‘Sustainably Meeting the Global Food Crisis’, the event will take place on 14th July.

Confirmed speakers include Professor Toby Peters, University of Birmingham and Chief Executive of Dearman, David Sanders, Director of Innovation at The Carbon Trust, and Pawanexh Kohli, Chief Adviser for the National Centre for Cold-chain Development (Ministry of Agriculture, India).

The debate will consider the role that an enhanced cold chain can play in preventing hunger, but how negative environmental impacts can also be avoided.

Rudimentary cold chains

It has been estimated that by 2030, up to 50% more food will need to be produced in order to feed a rapidly growing population. However, in emerging and developing countries, up to 40% of food is currently lost between harvest and market. If these countries had the same level of cold chain as the developed world, 200 million tonnes of perishable food that is currently lost could be preserved.

Delivering a new and reliable cold chain, featuring cold warehousing and distribution, in emerging and developing countries could have an immediate impact on the availability, quality and price of food.

But cold chains currently rely heavily upon out-dated, fossil fuelled and disproportionately polluting technologies for their power. For example, transport refrigeration units that keep refrigerated trucks cold are almost universally diesel powered and can emit up to 29 times as much particulate matter than a modern diesel truck engine. To meet growing global demand it’s anticipated the number of refrigerated trucks on the road could feasibly more than quadruple to 15 million in 2025.

Professor Peters (pictured right) explained, “It is estimated that, in order to feed growing populations, we need to produce 50% more food by 2030. Much of the focus is on farming yields, but in many markets cold chains are either non-existent or rudimentary, and a vast quantity of food is lost before it reaches the market.”

“This is not an efficient use of our natural resources. Annually, 250km3 of water is used to produce food that never makes it to market, that’s three times the capacity of Lake Geneva, and is a disgrace.”

“But equally,” he continued, “where comprehensive cold chains do exist, the cooling is almost exclusively provided by polluting diesel engines. Air pollution already causes an estimated 600,000 premature deaths in India every year. Meeting increased demand for an integrated cold chain with polluting diesel technology would have a ruinous effect on air quality and health. Affordable, sustainable cold technologies are therefore urgently needed to meet the global need for more food. We must not replace a social crisis with an environmental disaster.”

Tipping point

Adding an Indian perspective to proceedings will be Kohli, who added, “Globally, civilisation has reached a tipping point where our capacity to feed our growing numbers is of serious and increasing concern. Science has enabled us to increase food production, but much of what we produce perishes before it can reach the people we need to feed.”

“It has therefore become imperative that mankind fully grasps and controls clean cold energy, so that our species can continue to thrive and prosper.”

The 90-minute debate, Sustainably Meeting the Global Food Crisis: Why we need to ‘green’ cold chains,
will take place on Tuesday 14th July, from 3.15pm to 4.45pm The event will be chaired by Baroness Northover, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for International Development and Former Minister for International Development.