With the global population expected to rise to 10 billion in the next 30 years, the UN predicts that food production will need to double by 2050. How can this be done in an environmentally sustainable way, given the threat that climate change poses to our land and to food production? How can we avoid a catastrophic food disaster that could leave millions starving?
The issue was brought into sharp focus in 2020 when travel restrictions and the dearth of labour, caused by Covid-19, led to the shortage of some food stuffs across the world. Suddenly we were all forced to sit up and take notice of where our food comes from and how it is produced. It was a timely warning of the dangers of the food insecurity crisis we are all threatened with.
In a new eight-part multi-platform series called Follow the Food, sponsored by Corteva Agriscience™, BBC World News and BBC.com explore the stories behind feeding the world’s ever-growing population. Presented by renowned Botanist James Wong, the series will examine how farming, science, AI technology and the consumer can overcome this profound challenge and asks whether we can do so in a way that doesn’t harm the planet.
Follow the Food questions whether agriculture could provide the solution to replenishing our planet’s water supply, utilising the 50 thousand different edible plants available or reforesting our planet and asks whether agriculture has the power to reverse our course and allow us to produce more from less.
From a transformative water conservation project in India to the scientists breeding super plants in California, Follow the Food takes audiences on a journey from farm to fork.
James Wong, ethnobotanist and presenter of Follow the Food, said: “Incredibly, our food system – from the farmers and scientists to the shelf-stackers and truck drivers – ensured a continuous, affordable, safe and adequate food supply throughout the global pandemic. The resilience of the food system, and its ability to keep functioning in the face of unprecedented challenges, is testament to its spectacular resilience. But there are more challenges to come, and we examine how those in the food industry are adapting to keep us fed into the future.”
The multi-platform series includes eight half-hour programmes on BBC World News and eight in-depth articles on BBC Future. Each story brings audiences insights into what we’re eating, where it came from and how it was produced, visiting experts across the world.
In episode one, James Wong examines how farmers are digging deeper to unlock the hidden potential of their land to mitigate and potentially even reverse climate change. He speaks to the farmers on the frontline, using innovative techniques that produce plentiful food with as little impact as possible. From the US, there’s a look at the latest in precision Ag – Blue River’s smart machines that ‘see and spray’, making decisions about individual plants, dramatically reducing emissions.
In episode two, Follow the Food visits Kew Gardens in the UK to find out how the team there are future-proofing the Cavendish banana – the variety most of us eat. New varieties are also being cultivated in Kenya; but can any be produced on a large enough scale, provide an income for the farming community and taste good? James also visits the Designing Future Wheat programme, which is pioneering a new breed of crop using gene-editing technology to reduce the impact of mildew.
In episode three, James meets young members of the climate-conscious tech-savvy generation who are embracing and transforming farming by bringing new skills and ideas into play. In California, we hear about how new technology allows young farm workers to make a profit from owning their own land, without the economic pitfall of leasing fields. And in Kenya, James speaks to the people at Zawadi Coffee to find out how their Fairtrade initiative is enabling women to own and cultivate coffee bushes, selling roasted beans directly to suppliers.
In episode four, Follow the Food investigates how farmers, scientists and engineers are changing the way agriculture interacts with water – the way it’s used, sourced and stored. James meets the developers who are pioneering a much less water-consuming method of drip irrigation to grow rice. Also in this episode, the programme travels to India, one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, to examine an innovative new water harvesting technique.
In episode five, James speaks to the CEO of General Mills to learn how the company is enriching overworked land using regenerative agriculture. James also speaks to people behind The Grand African Savannah Green Up Project, hailed as the biggest land restoration project the world has ever seen, to find out how agroforestry is bringing soil back to life.
In episode six, James Wong meets the innovative growers who have created global, full-scale urban farming operations. He finds out how La Caverne, a unique urban farm in Paris, is growing a tonne of mushrooms and greens each day beneath the city’s streets. In the US, vertical farming is beginning to make a real impact and James explores how rapidly increasing knowledge and technology in this field will assist its expansion.
In episode seven, Follow the Food looks at how big data is helping farmers produce more and better food. James examines the technology that can assess thousands of plants daily, from satellites to planes, drones to robots. He investigates how collecting live data can increase yields and meets a young female engineer who’s saving our bees, by the millions, using smart pollination.
In episode eight, the final episode of the series, James focuses on one of the most important people in our food system – the consumer. He looks at the rise of the meatless meat industry, said to be worth $2.5 billion by 2023. James looks at what ‘carbon footprint’ really means and finds out how a UK food producer is leading the way in communicating this information on their packaging. And, as the journey into the future of food concludes, James finds out how new start-up, Wasteless, is helping supermarkets recapture the full value of perishable products and reduce food waste through AI-powered dynamic pricing.
Follow the Food will air at 0130 and 1530 GMT on Saturdays and 0930 and 2030 GMT on Sundays on BBC World News for eight weeks from 28th January 2021. Audiences can also visit www.bbc.com/followthefood for special features, and @BBCFuture for the latest from the series.