Scientists sketch the menu of the future

Kocho, a food produced using juice, is served with honey and red pepper sauce.

Mwayout | stocks | beautiful pictures

Earlier this year, UK shoppers faced shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables, as some of the country’s grocers delivered products such as tomatoes, lettuce and peppers.

The reasons behind these scarcity of raw materials The determinants of a good salad are complex and varied, ranging from high energy prices to adverse weather conditions in supplying countries.

While the shortage has more or less eased, it has highlighted the fragile nature of our food system and the immense importance of food security.

In 2022, a main report from the United Nations showed the scale of the problem.

“Between 702 and 828 million people will be affected by hunger by 2021,” said the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report.

The United Nations report identified “the main drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition: conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks, combined with growing inequality.” .”

With concerns about the impact of climate change on the development of agriculture, what we grow and eat could be about to undergo a dramatic change.

Crops that are unfamiliar to many of us could play an important role in the years to come. In June 2022, scientists at Royal Botanical Garden, Kewlisted several food sources that could play a big part in future diets.

These include seaweed; cactus like prickly pear; a kind wild coffee can withstand much warmer temperatures than Arabica coffee; and enset, also known as fake banana.

“Enset is a relative of bananas,” James Borrell, head of the Trait and Functional Diversity research group at RBG Kew, told CNBC.

“But while bananas come from Southeast Asia and you eat the fruit, enset came from Africa and was domesticated – and only grown – in Ethiopia,” he added.

“You actually eat the entire stem, or the pseudo-stem and underground stem.”

“Something like 15 trees can feed a person for a year, so it’s… very large and very productive.”

enset factory in Ethiopia. Enset is also known as the “plant against hunger”.

Glen_pearson | stocks | beautiful pictures

When it comes to food security, the potential of psyllium – also known as the “hungry plant” – appears to be substantial.

Borrell told CNBC it possesses a combination of traits and characteristics that are “very unusual in crops.”

“Firstly, it’s a perennial and so it will continue to grow year after year if you don’t harvest,” he said.

A fruit tree can also be a perennial, he notes, “but it only bears fruit at a certain time of year – so you either need to eat it later or you need to store it.”

However, with enset, “you eat the whole thing…so the fact that it gets bigger each year, you can just harvest as needed.”

A ‘food bank account’

That, Borrell said, makes it especially useful for subsistence farmers working on certain crops.

“If one year your other crops fail or aren’t productive enough, you might eat a little more of your total,” he says.

“If you have a good year for your other crops, you might eat a little less.” That means enset can “repel seasonal food insecurity”.

“For a subsistence farmer, it’s a great product,” he added.

“It’s like a food bank, it’s like a green asset that you can maintain and nurture and if you don’t use it, it just keeps accumulating.”

For now, RGB Kew says rally food for 20 million people in Ethiopia, but the organization added it “could be a climate-smart crop of the future” thanks to its “high yield and resilience to prolonged drought. “

In late 2021, researchers based in the UK and Ethiopia, including Borrell, published a paper in environmental research provided a glimpse of the role it could play in the future.

“We found that although the current distribution is highly restricted, there is considerable potential for the expansion of climate-resilient assemblages in both Ethiopia and throughout eastern and southern Africa”.

Kocho, produced using the enset tree, was photographed in Ethiopia.

Glen_pearson | stocks | beautiful pictures

Could enset cultivation then expand from Ethiopia to other parts of the world, buffering other crops in the process?

“It is very important that it is an Ethiopian crop,” Borrell said.

“And so those kinds of decisions are entirely up to Ethiopia… it’s Ethiopia’s indigenous knowledge and it was Ethiopia’s farmers who spent thousands of years taming it.”

“So while we can talk about what the potential is and whether it will work, we can’t specifically say whether it should happen and if it can happen. .”

It is therefore unlikely that people outside of Ethiopia will be seeing enset on their plates any time soon.

However, its resilience and its importance in securing supplies for farmers there illustrate how traditionally rooted practices can play a big role in the way we think and consume. food intake.

“It’s a wonderful crop, with great indigenous knowledge underpinning it,” Borrell said.

“I think the message is that this is just one of hundreds or even thousands of underutilized crops that have not been studied extensively and that they are not widely known.”

“So for each of the plants that we talk about, such as the enset, there are many others that can have … a particular combination of traits that can help us solve the challenge they face. we encountered.”


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