SDGs zero hunger target: Ocean farming for global food security



Prof. M. K. Othman



Zero Hunger is goal number two of the 17 global goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations. The goal aims at ending all forms of hunger and malnutrition in the world by the year 2030. This means that all people – especially children and the vulnerable – have physical and socioeconomic access to sufficient and nutritious food at all year round to meet their food needs in all corners of the world. This seems to be an overambitious goal considering the current shocks threatening the food security situation in both developing and developed countries.

The shocks are related to climate change, conflict, pests; such as locusts and Fall Army Worm and infectious diseases; such as African swine fever and the COVID-19 pandemic occurring in several countries including Nigeria. These shocks slowdown, in some cases, stop food production, disrupt supply chains and stress people’s resilience and ability to access nutritious and affordable food. This raises concern about our ability to achieve zero hunger in the next decade, the year, 2030. Is the global food security trend moving towards a food secure world or not?

World Bank report on food security indicates an increase in the number of malnourished people worldwide for three years.
 According to the report “the absolute number of undernourished people has increased in recent years, from 784 million in 2015 to 820 million in 2018. More than 2 billion people lack the micronutrients needed for growth, development and disease prevention and, over 2 billion people suffer from the adverse health effects of being overweight or obese.” (https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/food-security) The consequences of this ugly situation are severe for public health, national wealth, and for individuals’ and communities’ quality of life. 

Quite rightly, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) observes these nerve-racking trends, which coincide with the diminishing availability of land; increasing soil and biodiversity degradation; and more frequent and severe weather events. The impact of climate change on agriculture compounds the situation. Reversing the trends and addressing the situation may require a multi-faceted approach, strategic thinking, meticulous planning and dedicated implementation. This is why ocean farming becomes handy. It is a viable innovation to increase quality food production as well as protect the environment. Why ocean farming?

The ocean covers 71% of the geographical surface area of the earth leaving only 29% for the dwelling of people, forests, roads and several other stationary and mobile features of the earth. Forestry occupies 34 %, Barren land especially desert has 14 % while inland water bodies and snow and glaciers occupy 4 %. 

71 % of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 % of all Earth’s water. Water also exists in the air as water vapour, in rivers and lakes, in icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers as groundwater, and even in all living things, animals and plants. So, the land where we dwell contains less than 5% of the water on Earth. There is enough water to cover the whole Earth completely to a depth of 2.6 kilometres if the earth was made spherically uniform like a ball. 

Thus, water is occupying close to 3/4 of the earth’s surface. In the slightly above one–a quarter of the earth, people can only dwell in a fraction as About 50 % of the habitable land is being used for agricultural purposes. This means that there is already pressure on agricultural land as the population increases when more food is required to supply the ever-expanding population of the world.To give a vivid picture of the likely pressure on agricultural land today, it is pertinent to present a trend of population explosion in the world from slightly over 100 years ago (1900 to 2018). 

Records from http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/ show that by the year, 1900, the world population was estimated to be 1.6 billion, with an average yearly increase of 1.9 %, and the population moved to 3.03 billion by 1960. The figure moved to 4.458 billion by 1980, then moved to 6.145 billion by the year 2000, again moved to 6.958 by the year 2010 and then to 7.633 billion by the year 2018 and finally to 7.796 billion by July 2020. This means that the world population quintupled from 1.6 to 7.8 billion within 120 years. With this trend, the population is estimated to be 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. 

Will the land surface be adequate to supply foods that can meet the dietary needs of the population in 50, 70 and 100 years to come? More land can be brought into cultivation by clearing the forest, adapting innovative farming methods and increasing farms in the vertical direction to increase food production. Can humanity consider using the 71 % fraction of the earth occupied by the ocean for farming activities? If more lands are cleared, what is the environmental implication of bringing more land into cultivation? Will it increase greenhouse emissions? 

These are questions and challenges attracting the attention of innovators and researchers. One of the identifiable solutions to these challenges is “Ocean Farming”. Ocean farming involves the growing of food in the ocean as one may discerningly observe that sea vegetables exit flourishing within and under the ocean. Are these vegetables edible? Imagine crops growing in the ocean without fertilizer application, no air, no soil, no freshwater, only seawater and sunlight.
 (To be continued next week)