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Scientists looking to find innovative ways to produce food

Banana trees that fit in a test tube. Fish farmed in the desert. Robots picking fruit. Welcome to the brave new world of food, where scientists are battling a global time-bomb of climate change, water scarcity, population growth and soaring obesity rates to find ways to feed the future.

With one in nine people already short of enough food, supporters pushing for a Second Green Revolution argue without major changes hunger will become one of the biggest threats to national security and human health.

Scientists are looking to the future to find innovative ways to produce food. But they admit getting billions of farmers globally — and consumers — to change will be a battle.

“You need a revolution in the agriculture and food system within the next decade because without it, we're never going to achieve any of the really important (global) goals that we’ve set,” said Bruce Campbell, director, CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

A visit to United Nations-backed laboratories 35 km outside Austria’s capital Vienna provides a glimpse into the food of tomorrow's world. Here, in labs and greenhouses packed with genetic sequencing machines, robotic equipment and plants and insects of all sizes, scientists are using nuclear technology to spur disease-resistant banana trees.

Scientists are also working on other innovations — from gene editing of crops to lab-grown meat — that could fundamentally change how food is grown, distributed and eaten.

“Our agri food system is at a critical stage. It must be re-shaped,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Of the world’s 7.6 billion people — a population projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 — about 815 million people go hungry daily. Globally, about 40 per cent of adults are overweight and 13 per cent obese, says the World Health Organization. Technology is also helping meet the growing demand for meat, without more emission-producing livestock. The ideas hark back to predictions former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made in a 1931 essay. “Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he wrote.


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