Feeding the Future Takes Center Stage at EAT Food Forum
We've all heard the saying "You are what you eat." If you eat unhealthy foods, you'll inevitably be unhealthy. I'd like to take it one step further. It's not just what food you eat, but how it ended up on your plate.
Laura Turner Seydel shares Captain Planet Foundation's best practices based curriculum program Project Learning Garden at EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2016.EAT 2016 Johan Lygrell
Is the apple you're eating sprayed with pesticides? An apple is a great choice for a nutritious snack, but grown with the help of a chemical cocktail, repeated consumption could have harmful effects on your body, and those same pesticides contribute to the mass decline of pollinators and other environmental harm.
As we know food is a cornerstone of life and our existence relies upon it. The way we grow our food affects the natural systems that support all life which produces that food. Naturally we care about how our bodies will look, develop and function.
On one end of the scale we have the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and other countries that consume Western diets, where the average person is consuming excessive amounts of sugar on a daily basis, leading to rampant diabetes and other associated chronic diseases. On the other end, in developing nations, communities are starving, where lack of resources and devastating effects of climate change, lead to widespread poverty, malnutrition and death.
In a global economy, the manufacture, marketing, transportation and consumption of food is intricately tied. Co-founder and president of EAT Foundation, Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, opened the EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2016 in June with these facts:
- In the next 10 minutes, the world will welcome 2,500 new citizens.
- Almost 300 new citizens, more than 10 percent, will not have enough food for a healthy life.
- Almost 1,000 new citizens are expected to grow up overweight—and their biggest killer will be food.
Food is the leading cause of the global health crisis and at the heart of the environmental catastrophe facing the planet, responsible for nearly one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. And food is the single overwhelming cause of lack of biodiversity.
Jamie Oliver discusses his Food Revolution and takes questions from the audience.EAT 2016 Johan Lygrell
The EAT Stockholm Food Forum is the only global initiative bringing together experts from politics, science and business solely focused on the issue of food. I was honored to participate this year, giving a keynote on the work of Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) and our Project Learning Gardens.
By 2050, the world's estimated population will be 9 billion people and 80 percent of those will live in cities. Currently, more than 2 billion of the world's 7.4 billion are undernourished and 1.3 billion of our population works in agriculture.
According to Johan Rockström, executive director of Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Pavan Sukhdev, founder and CEO of the GIST Advisory, approximately 40 percent of the world's land is used in food production. If there was no change in our agricultural system, we'd need 70 percent of the planet's land to meet the needs of 2050. In addition, food production consumes 70 percent of the world's fresh water. Clearly, in order to feed the world's population in 2050, just one generation away, we need to make some big changes.
But it's not just the immediate issue of feeding the future. Food, it's production and consumption, is intrinsically tied to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Revolutionizing the world's food systems is key to realizing these goals, moving the world to a more just, safe and prosperous future.
Adopted in September 2015 by the UN, the SDGs are 17 aspirational goals with 169 targets designed to address the world's greatest issues, like poverty, climate change and hunger.
For example, Goal 5 is Gender Equality. Throughout much of the developing world the overwhelming majority of farmers are women. These duties, in addition to those within the home, make educational opportunities minimal.
Climate change induced disasters, erosion and changes in temperature now require replanting of fields two or three times, where once was sufficient. Lack of education and malnutrition lead to higher violence, inequality, mortality rates and poverty.
Mary Robinson, first woman president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, shared a recent study from Tanzania. In countries such as Zambia, Malawi and Ethiopia where women and girls are responsible for collecting fresh water, collection can take longer than 30 minutes for a quarter of the population. This study showed a 12 percent increase in school attendance when water was only 15 minutes away. A greater increase in education opportunities leads to greater economic opportunities. This creates a virtuous cycle impacting present and future communities. Educated women are less likely to die in childbirth and have children later in life. They have better employment opportunities and a mother's education improves childhood nutrition.
Dr. Gunhild A. Stordalen is co-founder and chair of the EAT Foundation and Stordalen Foundation.EAT 2016 Johan Lygrell
In order to solve the looming problems associated with food production, it's critical that we work holistically. As Dr. Anthony So, director of the Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, points out, policy changes will not be enough. Developing new technologies is key!
Imagine technology that could be used by any farmer that crowdsources data the world over, providing critical information and keeping everyone accountable. Feeding the seven billion and growing people on Earth is one of the major challenges of the day and to do so we must move toward more sustainable solutions.
School gardens and eating veggie rich diets will dramatically improve obesity and diabetes. Cities in particular can develop direct practical level solutions. It is critical that we develop effective methods of growing food in urban centers. With fresh water sources in decline in many parts of the world it is important to consider how this precious resource is used and conserved.
It is true that our planet faces dire and compounding issues, but it's important to not lose yourself in the doom and gloom. As Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mette Marit of Norway reminds us, solving climate change is not about scary phrases and overwhelming statistics, it's about mountain air, buzzing bees and coral reefs. It's about the beautiful and vast biosphere and the quality of life of all the world's people.
You can learn more about issues surrounding food by visiting the Eat Food Forum website and watching presentations from some of today's most innovative thinkers. Speakers came from a range of backgrounds—from Small Island Developing States to cities—including CEOs of leading food producers to consumer activists.
By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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