Food security - A growing dilemma | DW Documentary
Fresh food galore. In Germany, we're used to supermarkets brimming with produce. But often it has come from far away. That makes our supply chains vulnerable. The war in Ukraine is revealing our limitations. We can tell from the empty shelves what didnít come from Germany.
We need to feed more and more people globally. But intensive farming threatens the environment and our survival. If we use traditional agriculture practices - the next two billion people that will be here in the year 2050, we will need a land area the size of Brazil. Itís time to switch to sustainable farming practices and new food sources. If we want to support the global food chain and offer an alternative then we need to grow a lot of seaweed.
What food will we eat in the future? Farmer Jonas Schulze Niehoff has been refining this recipe for a long time. Itís something special he thought up for his three children. This is going to be a kind of chickpea tofu.
Iím going to cut it into little fish shapes for my children. Then Iím going to fry it a bit, so it gets that extra bit of flavor. Itís a meal made almost entirely from chickpeas and that comes - apart from the spices - entirely from local production. Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are a protein-rich pulse from the Middle East that the farmer has begun to grow in Eastern Germany. He thinks agriculture and eating habits need to change. How should we eat in the future? Eating Schnitzel every day isnít good - and it probably isnít good to eat just lettuce every day either. Variety.
I think thatís the most important thing. That means we donít have to go without anything. But it means that our food is very varied and nutritious.
At his farm in the German state of Saxony Anhalt Jonas Schulze Niehoff grows all kinds of superfoods. Today, heís sowing quinoa seeds. The grain is native to the South American Andes, but feels increasingly at home here. If we keep on growing what we always have, weíre not going to get anywhere.
Climate change means getting used to the idea of cultivating different crops. Thatís why I find it really interesting. And quinoa is really healthy and tasty. Iím enjoying doing this and I think thatís the most important thing. If you enjoy something, you can do it well. When Schulze Niehoff took over his fatherís farm eight years ago, it produced traditional crops like wheat, maize and sugar beet.
But he decided to switch to non-native crops, or forgotten ones. He is gearing up for the future with nutritious and more resilient crops better suited to new climate conditions. On the one hand, I want to try out new things and, on the other hand, I want to have long-term goals. Thatís important to me. My father always said farming is about thinking in generations and I try to live by that principle. So-called superfoods like quinoa are becoming more popular due to their high nutritional value.
But demand for quinoa here is driving up prices in South America and threatening their supplies. Yet this hardy pseudo grain now thrives in Europe, too. It makes much more sense to produce things locally, if it is possible. A certain degree of globalization will always remain, Iím sure.
But we save an amazing amount of energy and emissions by avoiding unnecessary transportation. And, of course, it would be great if we could grow our own food supplies. New drought-resistant crops could help. In Saxony-Anhalt, spring rainfall is dropping and summers are getting hotter and drier. Quinoa is a timely solution. It needs a third of the water required by wheat. Agricultural scientist Urte Grauwinkel is supporting the adventurous farmer.
Together, theyíre checking how the first seeds of the year are developing. This has come up quite well. Yes, itís coming up quite well in the field, but thereís a lot of weeds growing up between and we canít see the rows of seedlings from the tractor. So we canít use machinery for hoeing yet.
Crops new to the region like quinoa, and practically forgotten ones like hemp, mean a lot of trial and error. Things can go wrong. But diversity is key. There's risk with all crops.
If the weather isnít right, then my crop might fail. From that point of view, I am reducing my risk by diversifying. It is unlikely that all my crops will fail at once. Of course, there are costs attached to the learning process. We are investing quite a lot of work in something with an uncertain, a very uncertain outcome...
But itís an investment for the future. Quinoa is a superfood. It has plenty of calories and it's very healthy. And bringing it here is also an opportunity to diversify what we eat. Urte Grauwinkel wants Saxony-Anhalt to become a superfood producer.
The agricultural scientist has set up an organization to achieve this goal. Joost Woutersí vision for farming in the future doesnít involve cultivating the land at all. Hey, Captain Kajak! On board with him are German marine biologist Sylvia Strauss and developer Lineke Hohmann. Their workplace is, in a sense, under water.
One, two, three, four. Fourth from here. Down in the water, there is something that they would like to see enriching the diets of people in Europe - seaweed! There are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of species of algae worldwide. Only a fraction has been researched. Seaweed can be cultivated on ropes at sea. Sylvia Strauss quickly identifies the types of edible seaweed: Thatës sugar kelp. This green one is sea lettuce. You can eat that, too.
And thatís wakame. It weighs at least... maybe... three or four kilos?! That is a nice piece, Sylvia! Thatís for dinner tonight! In Europe, this slippery stuff is still regarded with a little suspicion. In many parts of Asia, by contrast, seaweed has long been popular. Wouters would like to see it catch on in Europe, too - and help make our diet healthier and more diverse. Now, the world mainly eats rice, wheat, corn and meat. That promotes the rise of monocultures, makes us dependent on just a few types of food and vulnerable to crisis.
If we want to support the global food chain and offer an alternative or relieve the stress on the current system, yeah, then we need to grow a lot of seaweed. Four years ago, Wouters set up the Seaweed Company. Before that, he worked for an unhealthier part of the food and drinks industry - he was a manager for a big soft drinks company. The birth of his son led to a rethink.
Now Iím making plans to get children drinking more of those beverages, but if my boy gets older, I donít want him to drink that. And then I realized that those big companies that exist, it is very hard for them to change. Actually, I donít think they can change. They want to. They write it on their social media, but in the end itís just nothing. Currently, his company operates nine seaweed farms, cultivating the species that are native to the local ecosystems.
The beauty of seaweed is that it grows in water, we donít need land, it doesnít need fertilizer. It doesnít need fresh water. Seaweed also absorbs a lot of CO2.
A lot more than most things grown in soil - because it develops a lot faster. So if you roughly calculate every 1000 kilograms of wet seaweed, it has absorbed 120 kilograms of CO2. To help popularize it in the European market, the team is also developing new recipes and products.
The area around Magdeburg is one of Germanyís corn baskets. Urte Grauwinkel wants to use its fertile soil to start a new trend. Together with her team and farmers like Jonas Schulze Niehoff, she is introducing new arable crops to Saxony-Anhalt. She is using his farm as a test field. The problem is that most farmers experiment a bit, but because there is no scientific supervision, they donít get listened to. You are only deemed important when the university is on board, too.
The researcher from the University of Halle is using her standing to back this agricultural transformation. At the moment, just under 16 % of what is harvested worldwide directly ends up on our plates. 72% of it is turned into animal feed. And 11.7% is used as biofuel or as an industrial commodity. We have to move towards producing more food and away from animal feed and fuel. Above all, we need vegetables. At the moment, it is brought in from around the world.
And I would like local agriculture to increase and become more crisis resilient. If we ate less meat, there would be enough food for another four billion people. That is another reason why Urte Grauwinkel and her students are looking for plants that might thrive locally. Whatever flourishes here in the test garden could help guarantee food security in the future. We need new species. Thatís why we have this garden of tomorrow here.
So farmers donít have to try things out on their fields. We are doing a bit of the legwork in advance. We can say: Yes, it works and you can try it out. Look! Itís growing really well. Or, no. Letís take one step back. Lentils donít really work in your soil.
Or chickpeas need those particular conditions. The students are recording every experiment. Theyíre amazed at how many non-native species grow well in this part of Eastern Germany.
We are trying quite a lot of pretty crazy, way-out things here. For example, the potato bean, Malabar spinach, and perennial kale. Really wild.
Zukunftsspeisen, or future foods, is the name of the project. It promotes quinoa and chickpeas, millet, lupini beans, hemp seeds and lentils. Some were widespread here, but fell out of favor. Now theyíre making a comeback. The idea of Zukunftsspeisen is from farm to table - to get farmers and cooks trying out new types of produce, trying out different systems, new agricultural systems, the local cultivation of new plants. But system change can only work if everyone participates - she's is convinced of that. And sheís got a plan!
In the local youth hostel, the agricultural scientist is giving cookery courses together with her colleague Lene Frohnert. Lene, what are we doing with the quinoa? Today, weíre going to make a quinoa salad and a quinoa - chickpea patty. At the workshops, local cooks, chefs and bakers are learning how best to prepare the new ingredients. If agricultural system change is going to work, their role is vital. It only makes sense if you can get what the farmers are growing onto peopleís plates.
So we are showing people who work with food what to do with it, to show bakers what to do with it. Thatís the basic idea. To put it simply: From farm to table. The baker is trying his hand at making hummus from regional chickpeas.
Thereís too much lemon juice in it. Itís sour. Itís absolutely new for me. Iím a regular baker who uses rye and wheat flour and salt.
But Iíve got 30 years working life ahead of me and this is the future. My children might take over my bakery business and I want to build a foundation. Itís a nice alternative. Iím looking forward to it. The hostel cook is also enjoying the change. It doesnít always have to be potatoes.
Why not use something different for a change - that can be just as easily cultivated? Something from the region, which is sustainable. Quinoa salad with beetroot and apples for instance. A local choir is getting to sample the food.
All the ingredients are vegan, halal and kosher. So the cook doesnít have to offer alternatives and can put on a really good buffet, without spending more. So how is it going down? My daughter cooks like this, so Iím a bit familiar with it. And I think itís good. But, personally, I am still a bit conservative. I would also make a patty from chickpeas. We know it from falafel and so on. Itís good. Definitely.
Now weíll have to see what went down well and what didnít. And weíll need to continue supervising the cook. But Urte Grauwinkel has to tend to other things first. An inconspicuous building on the edge of Copenhagen - could it be the solution for many of our food problems? Owner Anders Riemann certainly thinks so. The name of his new-fangled farm is Nordic Harvest. My background is as a financial analyst at an investment bank.
And 8 years ago I was sitting, doing an incentive program for the employees of the bank, which gave them the opportunity to earn 100 percent on top of their salary, if they were high performers. So, then I thought: Is it ok just to sit and earn some money for yourself and not do enough for society? The banker became a farmer and set up Europeís largest indoor farm in the Danish capital. For Anders Riemann, vertical farming is a way to stop the destruction of ecosystems and feed the worldës growing population. At the moment, 38 percent of the worldís land area is used for food production, it consumes 70 percent of fresh water - and is responsible for 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. At Riemannës eco-friendly vertical farm, crops grow without any soil at all. These are the roots growing directly in the water.
The roots absorb nutrients from water more easily than from soil. So they need less fertilizer. The facility is also constantly recycling water. It uses almost 95 percent less than conventional vegetable farming.
But the biggest challenge was finding the right lighting: One day on my way home from the metro at three o'clock in the night, after going out in the town, I thought: What about LED lights? Have they been developed enough to make photosynthesis for plants so you can grow them in layers in water. And, in actual fact, 20,000 LED panels were able to function like sunlight and stimulate plant metabolism. The light looks purple because vertical farming combines different light spectrums to promote plant growth. We have LED-diodes, which we put in an aluminum plate, and the aluminum plate will absorb the heat and put it out in the room. The temperature here is between 22 and 26 degrees Celsius - ideal growing conditions for salad. And the electricity supply is carbon neutral thanks to wind power.
Inside, things grow a lot quicker. There are 15 harvests a year. Outside: Only to two to four. Vertical farming is independent of the seasons and climate conditions. Itís more secure. Now after Corona and the war in Ukraine, we are very vulnerable for the security of supplying food. So, we need to be able to have food production inside of the cities as part of the infrastructure.
Shorter journeys also mean Riemann saves transport costs and avoids CO2 emissions. Itís just a few meters from the shelf to the harvesting machine. Most of the work is done by machines. But the technology is still very expensive. A full-size facility for us would be about 25 million euros.
Because itís a technology that has just been profitable. So, when itís developed further then it can be profitable in other countries of the world. They are not yet using the facilityís entire surface, but already supply 120 supermarkets.
When up to speed, the farm could produce some 1,000 tons of leafy greens - 250 times more than conventional agriculture from the same surface area. At the moment, Nordic Harvest only grows lettuce and herbs here - but more vegetables and fruits, like strawberries, are planned. German plant scientist Lara Smigielski oversees processes in the vertical farm.
She is working with bacteria that will support plant growth. I think that we have all the technology here at hand and we have to ensure that we also use it in a positive way for the future. We are doing good pioneering work here to make progress on that front. Population growth means that such trailblazing work is becoming more and more important for millions of people.
At the Oosterschelde barrier in the Netherlands Joost Wouters is tending his freshly harvested seaweed. In the waterside facility, the seaweed is dried or is kept fresh in water tanks for further processing. So what you see here is the seaweed after it is finished.
This is the end of the season. Beautiful leaves - oh basically you still see them here on the rope. So this is nice. So you can see the full rope here and then we cut it and then we process it in our products. He's already preparing new spores - in glass flasks in a refrigerator - ready for seeding. Here you see the beginning of the whole life cycle.
This is where the seaweed babies in a very early stage are growing and kept and this is where we start the base material for the seaweed. The spores will later be sprayed onto the ropes that will be dropped back into the water. But today, he and his team are trying out a few products they intend to use to stir up the food industry. Finally some food! Wow - that looks so good. Tell me, what do we have here? Seaweed sausages and seaweed burgers! I cannot wait! Barbecued meats with seaweed. These sausages arenít made from pure pork, but include 15 percent seaweed. This ëbeefí burger is 30 percent seaweed.
Joost Wouters and his colleagues realize that not everyone is prepared to give up meat entirely. And seaweed helps to cut CO2. It means you can use 30% less meat. Thatís less meat to be produced and, of course, itís much more sustainable. Cattle farming produces lots of the climate killers methane and CO2. On average, the production of a kilo of beef has a carbon footprint of 13.6 kilos.
If you replace 30 percent of the beef in beefburgers with seaweed, the carbon footprint would drop to 9.5 kg per kilo. Marine biologist Sylvia Strauss also wants to popularize a Japanese dish in Europe: itís a kind of seaweed fondue. It turns green immediately. And now, take it out and dip it. I love it it is fantastic, go ahead In restaurants we can have this as an experience.
So you get some fresh seaweed on one side, you put a fondue on the table - this is really nice! Sometimes Wouters finds it hard to believe how he and his company have come. Ten years ago, he was still a manager in the soft drinks industry and now heís working to create healthy food fit for the future. He is moved by the thought that his vision might come true. I thought, if we can cultivate seaweed on a big scale and let the world know and benefit from what seaweed can bring and offer alternatives for a food chain - I think - then Iím a happy man! So I hope everything fits.
Great. So what do we have... chickpeas, quinoa and hemp. Organic farmer Jonas Schulze Niehoff and agricultural scientist Urte Grauwinkel have been working on their joint mission for three years now. Today, the superfood expert is promoting their climate-friendly and drought-resistant foodstuffs at an organic market. I think itís important to get into conversation with people and ask them whether they like the food or not. What are they looking for? Do they have questions? Thatís why I like going to markets. I want to listen to people and I pass their feedback on to the farmers and into the field of research.
More and more people are getting into chickpeas. Over the last ten years, imports have risen fivefold. Grauwinkel would like to meet the demand domestically. And gain more chickpea fans. We freshly milled the flour and baked them yesterday. Iíve hardly ever seen something so versatile.
Theyíre lovely, so crisp and nutty. And if you can eat chickpeas, but canít eat nuts, itís a great alternative. Itís my mission to create farming and a future fit for coming generations. I want to get other people on board and give them a Plan B.
Yes, to get them on board and tell them there are ways of changing things. Jonas Schulze Niehoffís chickpeas are ready for sowing. The idea of growing a new crop came to him in his kitchen. Pulses contain a lot of protein, but domestic types like garden peas donít grow so well here anymore.
It's more difficult now with native legumes because the weather, the climate has changed. With the mild winter, we saw a big rise in pests. I was on the lookout for alternatives and one thing led to the next. Now Iím growing chickpeas.
The farmerís homegrown chickpeas have been on the market for five years now. And recently he has acquired a big customer in Berlin - who is using them to make ëKofuí - something akin to Tofu. We need to eat less meat and more plant proteins. We need more variety than before. And then I think we will be able to feed more people using less land. Thatís what we have to aim for if we really want to survive as a society, as human beings.
Jonas Schulze Niehoff is already making the switch to a new type of farming. One that could ensure that thereís enough food for everyone.