Nabil Ahmad, Abundant Produce

"The world is at the point of a food security threshold"

As well as being Abundant’s Chief Research Scientist, Nabil Ahmad is a Research Fellow at Sydney University’s Plant Breeding Institute. Abundant Produce published an interview with Nabil, in which he offers some interesting views on the world's food security crisis and how science can help solve it.

What role do you think science can and should play in the production of food?
The world has managed to increase food production dramatically over the last century but it has been at the expense of the environment. Agriculture is already contributing to around one third of the climate change we’re seeing so far.

In addition the population is continuing to grow at an alarming rate. There will be more than 9 billion of us by 2050 and it’s estimated that we’ll need to increase food production by 70% to feed everyone.
To do that with current food production methods we’ll need to double the amount of fresh water we use, and where that water will come from, nobody knows. Already fresh water resources all over the world are stretched.
That sounds like a frightening situation. Is it really as bad as that?
It certainly is. The world is at the point of, or maybe even beyond, a food security threshold.
What do you mean by food security?
As defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, food security is a state where all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
So can science help? And if so, how?
The only way is to make our farming activities more sustainable, to reduce their impact on the environment and try to delay the onset and extent of climate change. That can be achieved through sustainable intensification - the production of more food with fewer inputs on existing agricultural land. We need to avoid removing forests and to reduce on-site gas emissions from farms.
Does the work you do at Abundant have the potential to help?
Certainly. All of our plant breeding takes place under very harsh Australian climatic conditions. We deliberately expose the plants to stresses like diseases and high temperatures and salinity. We select the plants that do best under these difficult conditions. This is completely different to conventional breeding, which takes place under optimal conditions.
Our plants produce vegetables with less fertiliser, less pesticides and less temperature control, decreasing the impact of horticulture on the environment.
So you are working directly toward increasing the sustainability of agriculture?
Yes and, as well as increasing sustainability, our plants will grow better in those parts of the world where the food is needed most, places with harsh climates like Australia’s - in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Actually nowadays we grow enough food for everybody but one billion people go hungry while others over-consume because the food isn’t distributed evenly enough. So our work will enhance food security by helping to even out distribution as well as by helping to make production more sustainable.

For more information:
Abundant Produce
Suite 8, 6th Floor,
55 Miller Street,
Pyrmont, NSW 2009,
Phone: +61 2 9571 8300
Fax: +61 2 9571 8200

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