Latin America's food system needs 'biological transformation', says expert

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/shark_749
© GettyImages/shark_749

Related tags Sustainability Circular economy Bioeconomy

Latin America's food system requires "a biological transformation" in order to become more sustainable, embracing both biotechnology and digitalization as well as traditional farming practices and native foods, according to one expert.

“Currently, Latin America has 24% of the arable land in the world but a low productivity growth.​ On the one hand, it is the future food provider of the world considering the increase in the world’s population towards 2050. But, on the other hand, it needs to urgently increase its productivity,"​ Marnix Doorn, business development manager at research institute Fraunhofer Chile Research, said.

Doorn said there are two main ways of feeding the world: increasing productivity, both in growing and processing, and losing less along the supply chain by reducing food waste.

“In order to make agriculture more sustainable, we’ll have to organize food production within ecosystems, creating natural equilibrium between crops and their environment, using biodiversity as providers of ecosystem services, [such as] biological control, crop pollination, erosion control and humidity regulation."

According to Doorn, the agri-food industry going forward will see a fusion of biological and information sciences in order to reach “a sustainable optimum” ​composed of resilient landscapes.

“This for an important part can be supported by the so-called Industry 4.0. By digitalizing the supply chain, a lot of processes can be maximized. However, process maximization is not the same as process optimization. Consumer trends show an increasing demand for sustainably produced foods. This brings in the importance of life-sciences," ​he told this publication.

'A fusion of sciences'

Fraunhofer is engaged in a number of projects in Latin America that aim to make this a reality. 

One of its projects, for instance, aimed to increase the biodiversity in Chile’s orchards, which are often made up of large swathes of monoculture crops such as avocado. It did this by adding field borders, which attracts important pollinators such as native bees, and using satellite imagery to determine their value.

Another of Fraunhofer’s projects in Chile involved a project on conserving colorful native potatoes from the Chilean island of Chilote, which are important for local biodiversity as well as human health thanks to their high polyphenol and anthocyanin content. 

According to a 2018 agricultural outlook published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), total crop production in Latin America and the Caribbean is projected to grow by 1.8% each year until 2027. About 60% of this growth will be due to improved yields with the remainder of crop production expansion coming from bigger harvest areas. 

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