Higher Education Funding Council for England

How do we feed 9 billion people by 2050?

Thursday 26-02-2015 - 16:31

Jasmine Black - a PhD soil biogeochemistry student from the University of Newcastle - attended the Thought for Food (TFF) Global Summit in Lisbon, Portugal this month.

In this blog, she tells us about the issues and challenges they confronted as part of the summit. How do we feed a population of 9 billion in 2050?

In my PhD research at Newcastle University, I look at understanding soil biogeochemistry in tropical ecosystems. Promoting awareness of soil sustainability to ensure future food security and biodiversity is one of my greatest passions. I was encouraged to join the Thought For Food (TFF) Summit and become an Ambassador for soil sustainability through edible insects Ambassador Peter Bickerton and co-founder Christine Gould.

TFF is a competition designed to encourage some of the most forward-thinking international university students to create innovative, brave and revolutionary solutions to solving one of the world’s greatest challenges: feeding a population of 9 billion by 2050.

Two main issues of food security arose from the 10 finalist teams. These were the need to extend produce shelf life and to grow food in urban areas.

Produce shelf-life

Poor shelf life of fresh fruit, vegetables and grains leads to issues such as the use of dangerous chemicals in preservation and food shortages post-harvest. Producers also struggle to survive economically in winter. The 5 finalist teams that addressed this issue illuminated how widespread a problem it is, but also how many solutions there can be to solving it. These included using sustainable energy (solar) and locally sourced materials.

Urban food growth

Our globally expanding population is also putting a heavy strain on our agricultural resources; especially soil and water. With this comes the need for more sustainable farming practices. Some of the TFF finalists responded to this challenge by creating innovative systems in which fruit and vegetables can be grown within your own home. This will lessen the pressure upon our agricultural resources, as well as fulfilling an increasing demand for fresh, high quality produce. With rural space declining as urban areas expand, the need to use urban space food growth is ever more important.


At the Summit, a talk given by a guest speaker resounded within me. This was to stop getting caught in a problem, and instead think ahead to the future solution. Too often we forget to look above problems, to the future we want, in order to solve them. Perspective is everything.

Another key point that struck me was the overwhelming feeling of unity amongst the participants; it is through effective, sustainable cooperation that we will succeed in overcoming the world’s biggest challenges. Personally, the Summit has enabled me to create an invaluable network of passionate international innovators, of whom I can connect with in my future work towards soil sustainability.

So, look positively towards the future, create your pathway to realising it, and make some lasting friendships along the way.

Jasmine Black
PhD Soil Biogeochemistry

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