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Waste Not, Want Not: The Challenge of Feeding Nine Billion People and the Innovations Making It Possible

A farmer harvests sorghum produced from seeds donated by the Food and Agriculture Organization. Photo Credit: FAO via Creative Commons.

The statistics on food waste and food loss are staggering.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has estimated that one third of all food produced worldwide is either lost (i.e., goes bad before it can be eaten) or wasted (i.e., thrown away).  That adds up to an unimaginable 2.8 trillion pounds of food—enough to feed three billion people.  To make matters worse, by 2050 the planet must have effective systems in place to supply food to nine billion people, but governments, international institutions, and businesses have yet to solve this global challenge.

Against the backdrop of finding and developing innovations to feed those 9 billion people, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) became a proud partner of the Thought for Food (TFF) Global Summit, a movement dedicated to engaging with the many complex challenges surrounding global food security.  TFF is designed to mentor teams of three to five students from top universities around the globe in a highly engaging and competitive setting.  The TFF Global Summit provides the space and the tools to design, develop, and implement innovative solutions to mitigate food waste and food loss at all levels of the food cycle, from farm to table.

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2015 TFF team Innovision celebrates their $10,000 win.  Photo Credit: Thought for Food.

After groups present their innovations, judges choose from among the most effective solutions to provide further support, including a Grand Prize of $10,000 to the top team.  In 2014, a winning team of Australian college students created the food-swapping app called Food! UP that encourages communal sharing by letting neighbors post about their extra food on the app and find willing partners who agree to a food price (whether monetary or barter-based) or decide to share for free.  Meanwhile, a team of Indian students took inspiration from Uber (an app used globally to pair riders and drivers) and developed Aahaar, an automated refrigeration truck system to effectively transport short-shelf-life foods before they perish.  Aahaar can reduce food spoilage during transportation from 50% to a mere 10%.

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Aerial view of Zurich, Switzerland. Photo Credit: World Tour Wallpapers.

This year, GKI is excited to facilitate interactive sessions at the TFF Global Summit in Zurich, Switzerland in early April, using interactive tools such as the Three Horizons Model to help participants analyze the current state of the food loss challenge, develop a shared vision for the ideal future, and then work to brainstorm how specific innovations might transition us from the present to that ideal future.  GKI’s Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Sara Farley, will also deliver a keynote address at the Summit.

GKI is looking forward to continuing its tradition of teaching and learning from student innovators at the Thought For Food Global Summit in less than a month!  Until then, read more about GKI’s work on the issue through its Social Innovation Lab for The Rockefeller Foundation’s Food Waste and Spoilage initiative.

Contributors: Katie Bowman and Serena Gobbi

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