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Nourishing 9 Billion: Millennials Weigh in on Global Food Challenges

Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared on the Net Impact blog.
By Paula Luu
The world’s population is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050. Right now, there are 805 million hungry people in the world. It’s estimated that 16 percent of those 805 million people live in developed countries.
Meanwhile, agriculture contributes to almost 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, uses 37 percent of landmass, and accounts for 70 percent of all freshwater extracted globally for human use. It is also a major polluter, as runoff from fertilizers and manure disrupts water sources like lakes, rivers and coastal ecosystems. Figuring out how to feed 9 billion people — while also advancing rural development, curbing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting valuable ecosystems — is one of the greatest challenges of our time.

To contribute to the solutions for a sustainable future, Net Impact and CollaborateUp hosted two “Nourishing 9 Billion” SolutionLabs at the University of California, Davis and Tufts University this spring. Both events were part of our new national series designed to allow students to work side-by-side with food system experts to engage with this critical issue and develop solutions that could change the world.

A diverse group of over 60 students -– from computer science majors to international development majors to soil science PhD candidates -– and young professionals gathered to generate groundbreaking ideas, all bringing a variety of perspectives and knowledge to the table and approaching the issue from different interest points.

Millennials speak up

Regardless of what drew them to the event, one thing was clear: This issue matters to millennials. But don’t take our word for it … hear from a few of the students who are spending their time thinking about the world’s toughest problems.

Students and young professionals at the SolutionsLab broke up into groups with the experts to develop ideas and solutions for a specific problem in the food system, which they pitched to the experts for feedback. Areas where the next-generation leaders saw the most promise included reducing food waste nationally and globally, coming up with a way to monetize food waste, and diversifying diet and farming practices in developing countries. Students pointed out the problems with our current food system:
Brainstorming about these issues also allowed some participants to make unexpected connections with their own work. Rashmi Ekka applied the learnings from the day to her business idea that she’s launching in India after she graduates from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.
Even though the issue of solving our global food system seems daunting, students who attended were surprised at how quickly their groups were able to come up with tangible solutions.
Some of the solutions proposed to improve our global food system included:
  • Adding freshness indicators on food packaging to reduce food waste.
  • Developing a SMS texting service to help farmers plant the most efficient crops and reduce food waste on the farm.
  • Creating a recycling center for food that would provide monetary incentive for residential and commercial customers to turn in their food waste.
  • Targeting malnourished regions in the world to produce soil-appropriate plant crops high in micronutrients.
Connecting with other students and professionals yielded more than just solutions. It inspired students to turn their passion into action, now and in their careers.
Problems this complex always have more than one solution, and we’re looking forward to hearing from more of you who want to tackle this important issue with us. We’re expecting the Nourishing 9 Billion SolutionsLab to arrive on more university campuses in the coming year. Stay tuned for updates and be sure to follow Net Impact on Instagram and Twitter.
Image credit: Flickr/Martina TR
Paula Luu is Senior Manager of Brand and Media Marketing for Net Impact. She raises the visibility of Net Impact as a global thought leader on next generation leaders and impact careers. Prior to joining Net Impact, she was the Communications Manager at the Pacific Institute, where she managed marketing initiatives that promoted and advocated for sustainable water policies, corporate water stewardship, and social equity.
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