Feeding the Next Billion

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Challenge Statement

Design a potential XPRIZE focused on finding ways to ensure that the 10% of the planet that remains undernourished gets access to nutritious food produced in a sustainable way. 

Select Grand Challenge Focus Areas

An amazing XPRIZE design will focus on the smallest set of breakthrough innovations that can unlock the largest possible impact.

After considering many different possibilities and consulting both internal and external experts in the field, XPRIZE has prioritized three “Grand Challenge Focus Areas” to be solved in this space: Food Systems, Nutrition, and Environmental Stewardship. “Grand Challenge Focus Areas” are topics in which a breakthrough could lead to massive transformational change in creating a world of nutritional abundance. XPRIZE is seeking amazing prize designs in these areas. 

Food Systems

One key Grand Challenge relates to the overall systems approach in food today, principally systems with respect to production, distribution, and consumption of food, at the micro and macro level, from storage solutions on the farm to market access. Prize designs could also target what people eat, how they eat and what they demand, since demand drives production.  Prize designs could also target better methods of producing and distributing food with less waste. 


With 800 million people regarded as undernourished, prize designs in this category might enable millions of people to lead better lives by having better nutrition.  These designs could cover a broad range of possibilities ranging from inventing more precise technology for identification of nutritional needs to distribution of healthy food to people who need it most.  

An excellent guidance paper from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). What constitutes a nutritious and safe food?

Environmental Stewardship

Food production relies on limited natural resources such as water, energy, and land.  Prize designs that target new technologies or approaches to growing healthy food while using less resources could incentivize huge breakthroughs in making sure the earth can sustainably produce enough healthy food for the next billion. 

Catalyst Agri-Innovations Society argues that an the greatest possible impact from an XPRIZE competition for the future of food will come from utilizing the powerful XPRIZE ecosystem, and several previous challenges to deliver a food system that demands excellence in BOTH Nutrition and Environmental Stewardship. It is not a technological barrier that keeps us from feeding the world and healing the planet, it is a matter of organization and communication. I believe that this proposed challenge will be the ultimate XPRIZE as it addresses (if we do it right) the whole base of Maslow's Pyramid and much more in a single program.

Root Causes


What are the underlying reasons why 10% of the population is still undernourished.  What are the natural, technological, social, environmental, political, and economic reasons why in 2018 people still don’t have enough to eat?


Agriculture around the globe is already producing enough food to feed ten billion people according to the Waggoner Report. Given the current mix of crop uses, growing food exclusively for direct human consumption could increase available food calories by as much as 70%, which could feed an additional 4 billion people.

Approximately one third of the food being produced in the world today is being wasted. Large quantities of food stocks are also being converted to biofuels production, which is leading to reduced availability of some food crops and cereals, and increased prices. As much as 40% of the current US corn crop is used for fuel production instead of being used as feed or food. It seems possible the demand for biofuels may diminish as electric vehicles become the majority of the fleet in the near future (Tony Seba).

There is an abundance of food in industrialized countries, while there are food shortages in developing countries. This is partially a distribution problem stemming from geopolitical dynamics and economic inequality.

An interesting and entertaining look into the American corn industry can be found in the documentary King Corn. It is important that the health impacts of corn, specifically high fructose corn syrup. Much has been written in many places. One example is here from Health.com.

The agriculture industry has mostly focused on the improvement of genetics and development of specific traits. A number of advances in agronomy, such as the use of plant and microbial biostimulants have not yet been widely adopted. It is estimated that commercial farmers only harvest approximately 20% - 30% of modern varieties inherent genetic potential. (Charles Tsai and Don Huber, unpublished). It is estimated that an additional 10% - 15% of genetic potential can be released by the adoption of new ag technologies, which could lead to very substantial yield increases for many crops.

  1. Many decisions are based on linear advancement, through observational analysis, and microcosmic understanding, which then becomes entrenched. (See "The Calf Path" by Sam Foss)
  2. Generational/ traditional training and cognitive bias. (e.g. sweet and salty, anything cooked over open fires, it's how my mom/dad/grandma/grandpa did it...)
  3. The world looks at food in isolation, disconnected from the foundational elements (energy, water, inputs)
  4. The world is trying to industrialize natural processes to gain efficiencies (e.g. grazing ruminants moved from grasslands to feedlots)
  5. Food is a pinch point that can be used politically to control masses of people as things are done today. Information and technology will break through that now.

Existing Efforts to Address the Problem


The goal of this section is to understand what other efforts are already underway to address the problem of feeding the next billion.  Please be sure to focus on the who, what, when, and why.  Who is developing solutions to a similar problem (which innovators, academics, corporations)? What solutions are they developing? When were these solutions tried or when might they be ready by? Why did the people pursuing them take this particular tack? The hope is that by understanding existing efforts, we can see where there are gaps, or holes, in current efforts that might be targeted with a prize. 


Food Systems 

There seems to be tremendous potential to increase agricultural productivity by adopting new cropping and food systems. The System of Root (or Rice) Intensification (SRI) developed by Dr Norman Uphoff has lead to new world record yields in rice production, and greatly increased yields of other crops in developing countries.

A complete bundle of services including financing for seed and fertilizer, input distribution, training, and market facilitation has been developed by One Acre Fund to provide a pathway out of poverty for farmers in Africa.

Many groups are working on this now in a virtual tsunami of attention and funding opportunities. Some good examples are Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana where they have a 16000 cow dairy farm, with a DVO Digester making biogas that goes through a Greenlane Biogas upgrading solution, supplying fuel for trucks. It also upgrades the fertilizer that is harvested by a Trident Processes nutrient extraction system, that supplies recovered phosphorus (Peak phosphorus is a global threat) to MidWest BioAg to be made into new precision agriculture fertilizers, that are used to grow new feed for the cows. All of these companies and a lot more are part of a group called Newtrient LLC that is organizing all technologies in the space, and the American Biogas Council that helps them all pay for solutions through renewable energy. Two great TEDx Talks on this are More Crop Per Drop and Poop Soup and the Inevitable Global Movement. Still there is much to do, and we need the tools this competition will deliver. Work must be data driven, and mission focused.

A recent announcement is from Greenbelt Resources Corporation and Duckweed DAYS about their project that will produce ethanol and protein concentrate from duckweed, a fast growing aquatic grass. The story can be seen here.

Organics recycling is an important aspect of the food cycle that is providing a solution to the problem of wasted food. Some studies[1] report that up to one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year -- approximately 1.3 billion tonnes -- gets lost or wasted. This food loss and waste amounts to approximately $680 billion USD in industrialized countries and $310 billion USD in developing countries[1]. Companies like Waste Management currently provide commercial scale organics recycling in several large US cities, including New York and Boston, with each ton of processed food waste resulting in enough energy to power eight to ten homes. At a household scale, companies like Homebiogas produce and sell anaerobic digesters that convert organic waste into methane gas and liquid fertilizer. These digesters are compact enough to fit in a family-sized backyard, and can produce up to 2 hours of cooking gas per day that is clean and off-grid.

Food delivery services have become very easy and wildly popular[2], with some predictions estimating that the U.S. food delivery market could grow to $76 billion by 2022[3]. Companies like GrubHub and Uber Eats are filling demand from customers to have food from their favorite restaurants ordered quickly and easily via mobile apps and then delivered to the door. Consumers are gaining from the removal of friction in accessing their favorite products, and there is also economic gain for independent drivers that are earning in the gig economy. The infrastructure for food delivery has been well established for restaurant options, and Amazon is enhancing the entire system with a 2018 roll-out of delivery services for grocery items from Whole Foods.

Vertical Farming uses a fraction of the resources needed for field agriculture, while generating substantially higher yields. It provides higher quality food and is environmentally friendly.

Vertical farming and aquaponics (sometimes called polyculture) is recieving amlot of attention, but are not without their challenges. Greenhouse grown plants in general deliver high yeilds of great looking producel, but methods used to drive tonnage lower the nutrition content and taste. Aquaponics seeks to take two very challenging production systems and combine them. A well thought out recent story asking good questions is here. Can Vertical Farms Reap Their Harvest? It’s Anyone’s Bet.


This is a challenging area because there is a general lack of understanding. An example is the half live of nutrients, and the effects of modified environment/modified atmosphere storage. This practice can keep a fruit, like an apple for example, looking pristine and fresh, while the nutrient content is trickling away to where mostly just sugar and water remain. I recommend the excellent TED talk by Caleb Harper "This Computer will Grow your Food in the Future" The Feeding the Next Billion challenge will (if it is designed well) be radically disruptive. Science is showing us that there is much "common Knowledge" that is false. An example is the new Food Guide from the Government of Canada. It is touched on well in this Huffpost story, What We Can Expect From Canada's Updated Food Guide, According To A Dietitian The animal protein industries are quite up in arms because there is intention signaled by the government to place warning labels on many dairy and meat products.

An interesting presentation of alternative protein options from Integraculture Inc. on cellular agriculture can be seen here.

Another story on what I believe will be a foundation stone of the future of food, which is a plant called duckweed, or water lentils in the Netherlands is here from the importance of it for nutrition can be seen here. It is referenced in a different story link regarding food systems above.

Environmental Stewardship

Memphis Meats is an example of an innovative company that could literally change the landscape of our planet. The driving mission at this organization is to harvest meat from cells instead of living animals, which could have profound effects on how we currently manage land and resources for the animals that will be our food. If nutritious, healthy meat could be produced on a commercial scale without the requirement of live animals, our planet would conserve the massive amounts of land, water, energy, and food that is needed to raise and process animals as livestock.

Vertical farming is a modern form of agriculture that aims to produce more food per acre of land while in an indoor environment. The advantages of vertical farming are that climate can be controlled every day of the year, that water and nutrients can be precisely used, and that there is minimal use of pesticides. Also, where vertical farms can be built closer to urban areas, the transportation time of products can be reduced. An example of a company currently in this space is Plenty.

An organization based in the Netherlands, Justdiggit has developed an approach to reversing desertification and increasing food production in the African Sahel based on managing Hyrological Corridors, which have both an immediate and long term affect on food production and the regional climate.

This an area seeing much attention now. While may aspects of Agriculture are under scrutiny for various reasons, animal production operations are now facing legal action. Lawsuits against five large dairy farms in the Yakima Valley of Washington State marked a turning point in that for the first time, the farms could not successfully defend their actions. One ceased operation, and the other four paid significant settlements. There is an active open case right now in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia Canada, with resolution still in progress. This case is detailed in a report titled "From Crisis to Solutions: Towards Better Source Water Protection and Nutrient Management in the Hullcar Valley". These are only two examples.

This aspect of the future of food has the advantage of a progressively scarce, and irreplaceable resource being used wastefully. Peak Phosphorus is a global threat that must not be underestimated. More than 80% of the worlds exploitable phosphorus is in Morocco, and there is no known alternative for this material. As the supply shrinks, the cost of it increases, and the price/performance curve of recovery solutions continue to improve, we will cross the line where environmental responsibility will be profitable. Phosphorus is used in many products, which is both a threat and an opportunity.

The headline story on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) web page today is Transforming food systems How partnerships are the way forward in tackling global challenges. This is applicable to both Feeding the Next Billion and Lifting Farmers design challenges.   

Key Obstacles


A key obstacle is a systemic reason why a problem can’t be solved under the current paradigm.  This is about something larger than any one particular technology or approach succeeding or failing. What are the larger systems or forces that will prevent any approach from succeeding or which are dis-incentivizing solutions from even being created?


Systems that will drive the future of food must address everything from production, through to the efficiency of getting the food into stomachs, and the health impact of that food. Partial solutions can not truly solve the threat.
Methane produced by animals

We need data driven, mission focused solutions that leverage sensor advances to gather objective information. We need transparency to overcome the cacophony of information noise around food. GMO's are a great example. One side says they are 100% safe, and the only way out of the threats we face. another side says they will be the death of us all. The reality is that data and statistics can be used to ABSOLUTELY prove both sides are right... Only pure objective data, collected by cyber secure sensors can overcome this threat.

A key caution that must remain in front of us as we seek to banish hunger and malnutrition is that we must not bring another billion people to parity with the developed world, eating the same sort and quantity of food. The global burden on healthcare would absolutely crush economic resources. We must look at food holistically, and conquer the food related illnesses for all people everywhere while we solve food insecurity!

The largest obstacle, to a GMO solution, is us humans. A majority of humans are skeptical of the idea, and believe that it is for the worse. Some reasons include:

  1. Lack of understanding regarding choosing strong sources. There has never been a peer reviewed study published substantiating claims regarding the health impacts of GMO's yet.
  2. Concern regarding biodiversity. We have very poor geodiversity in our crops (for example, the majority of the world's corn originates in the US) which means commodity price & availability is at risk from a crop failure in a single country. If the crops also have the same or similar lineage then the risk increases further as all crops are susceptible to precisely the same diseases and parasites, a single disease could conceivably wipe out the vast majority of corn in the US if the same seed stock is used throughout the country.
  3. Concern regarding the development of super pests. Reliance on single herbicides or insecticides (such as Roundup) results in rapid pest evolution to be tolerant to it. 

The above three are valid concerns.

There are also a few illogical concerns, which are spread due to the ignorance of persons, such as:

  1. Sometimes when people make up their minds they listen to "experts" who don't always tell the whole truth, or they sometimes ignore information that doesn't really say what they want it to say, or they don't really understand all of that information. This can happen to both sides of an argument, but this time it means that people sometimes get "bad" information when they decide that GMOs are nasty.
  2. Some people don't like the idea that what they are eating has been changed too much by men in white coats. They think the plants are too different from what they normally eat.
  3. A lot of people think your body "stores" the modified genes, and a lot of people believe that a non - modified crop has no genes whatsoever.

On the topic of Genetically engineered crops, I believe the single biggest barrier to progress is that we are not asking the right questions. Even the term "GMO" is far too general. To settle several of the concerns, and bring reality to bear, we need to look at the traits that are engineered in, like Glyphosate tolerance, and/or the ability for plants to produce Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) Work was done in France on Glyphosate by a French scientist, and it has come to be called the "Séralini affair". Again this points at the need for a data driven, mission focused effort, supported by cyber secure sensors.

The emergence of synthetic biology - This is an area that will be VERY troubling for the existing food industry. As Salim Ismail says, the entire immune system of the industry will war against it. Still, it is coming. This October 2017 story looks at it through a New Zealand lens. Synthetic meats are on their way, and our farmers are going to be left behind (hint, it's not just meat!) The XPRIZE Foundation, with HeroX and Singularity University, is in a unique position to be able to smooth the transition by leveraging technology, providing a full spectrum, data driven foundation for the world to use as it advances. We have the potential to solve food insecurity, healthcare, the environment and the economy together, and through this competition, do it quickly and efficiently.


Other Prizes in the Area

What prizes have already been launched in this space? Please clearly state who is who is sponsoring the prize, what it’s goals and timeline are, and the size of the prize purse.

One interesting and active program is called The World Food Prize. It has become known as the Nobel prize for food.

There are not so many specific challenges, but a LOT of funding for individual projects, using the old established "post and pray" methodologies that usually just yield 10% advances, not the 10x we need. There is a lot of $$ on deck now, including the new Sustainable Agriculture Systems (SAS) program from the USDA/NIFA.

We have identified a multi faceted competition for $100k Euro for start-ups launching June 4th by Hello Tomorrow. There is a specific track for Food and Agriculture.

Past Challenges:

The Launch Food Challenge https://www.launch.org/food/foodchallenge/

Foundations and Organizations Already Active in the Area

What are the major players that are already active in food systems, nutrition and environmental stewardship? (descriptions copied from organizations websites)

June 19/20 2018 The Future Food Tech conference is happening. Promotion for the event says " Future Food-Tech returns to New York as a catalyst for innovation and investment – but which technologies have the potential to deliver truly game-changing solutions?"

The Global Alliance for the Future of Food - with a head office in Toronto Ontario Canada. From their website, "As an alliance of mostly private foundations, we have the privilege, the responsibility, and the opportunity to leverage our resources and networks to get sustainable food systems on the political, economic, and social agenda. We bring diverse perspectives together to inform how we, as a global community, shape the future of food together."

Guided by a set of shared principles of renewability, resilience, diversity, equity, healthfulness, and interconnectedness, we work together and with others to leverage our resources around three key Impact Areas: agroecology, health and well-being, and true cost accounting 

Ballooning Costs of Health Impacts from food (from page 11 of the Study)

There is a powerful work produced by the Alliance called UNRAVELLING THE FOOD-HEALTH NEXUS"This report was commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food in support of its broader strategy to strengthen the fundamental role that food systems play in creating and sustaining health and well-being in all communities and populations." (Image on the right is from page 11 of the report)

WWF Project - X They say, " Were here to radically transform 10 industries in 10 years", and they have started with Feed security for livestock and aquaculture.

WWF also started the Markets Institute - "Change at the speed of life". From their website, "The Markets Institute at WWF identifies global issues and trends around one of the most pressing challenges of our time: the production of food in the 21st century. Our goal is to increase the speed and scale of solutions to help optimize global food sector sustainability." Both of the WWF efforts are driven by the recognition that if we don't figure out food, there will be nothing left to conserve! (See "Feeding 9 Billion and Maintaining a Planet" TEDx talk by Jason Clay

Still with WWF, they have posted the The 30X30 Forests, Food and Land Challenge, that looks not to be a cash prize effort, but survival of humanity challenge.

There is a tremendous amount of information and links at the EAT Forum website. EATForum 2018 has just completed in Stockholm.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research CGIAR System Organization. CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food secure future dedicated to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security, and improving natural resources. There are 15 affiliate organization Research Centres active in the program, seen here.

Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture. Born with the belief that continuous innovation in agriculture is the only way to sustainably feed nine billion people by 2050, the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture has emerged as a global authority on sustainable food production, driving innovation through exhibitions and conferences across the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Since 2014, GFIA events have welcomed over 20,000 visitors and worked with over 50 globally significant partners committed to using the Forum as a catalyst for change.

The MIT Media Lab Open Agriculture Initiative (OpenAg) This program focuses on closed containment or "indoor agriculture"

Praj - Matrix the Innovation Centre is located in Pune India, and brings 5 distinct Centres of Excellence together in a single complex. Livestock health and Nutrition Technologies are in one of the 4 focus areas. This program looks at food systemically.

Alltech - an animal nutrition and fermentation company that operates on their "ACE Principle" which is their "promise that in doing business we have a positive impact on the Animal, the Consumer and the Environment."

Singularity University has several different programs in motion for the future of food. A story on Singularity Hub addresses an aspect of GMO's. How to Feed 9.7 Billion People? CRISPR Gene Editing For Crops This is a tremendously divisive topic that I have observed that very broad questions like "Are GMO's safe?", which are answered with very specific answers drilling down on aspects, definitively proving the answer that was pre decided. It is my hope that the use of cyber secure sensors and machine learning will make raw data available, and consider the complete question and context.

Not specific to food, but filled with a tremendous amount of technology disruptors is the Disruptive Innovation Festival out of the UK. It is branded as the World's Largest Online Festival of Ideas. 2018 event is starting now, and the 2017 program had several very valuable presentations.

Current Events, News stories, and Reports

Could algae replace grain in animal feed? From Algae Industry News. Interesting from the story, "by replacing just roughly 2 percent of the livestock feed, pressure on deforestation agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen losses from cropland could be decreased by more than 5 percent — namely 6 percent for global cropland area, 7 percent for agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and 8 percent for global nitrogen losses."

Four of the world’s largest food companies have a new plan for fixing food and farm policy Very interesting story about how 4 BIG players in the food industry are bucking the trend of protecting how things are, and are apparently embracing consumer demand.

The vegans are coming! Why the end of meat could be closer than we think Includes a very interesting report from Beef + Lamb New Zealand on Alternative proteins.

Corporate Spin: Genetically Modifying the Way to Food Security?Interesting op-ed piece on GMO's from Global Research. Filled with links to studies, and seems to be asking reasonable questions.

Lab-Grown Meat Is Getting Cheap Enough For Anyone To Buy


Aquaculture leads fish production, consumption to new highs

Let’s build a hyper-local food network - From Farmee; Talks about the democratization of food production (an important part!)

The Triple Threat to Beef's Century-Long Bull Run, and the Technologies that could Save it...

10 Food Trends That Will Shape 2018

Seven Consumer Food Trends from “The Future of Food: New Realities for the Industry

Malnutrition the 'challenge of our time', say award winners

Waste not, want not: a new mantra July 5, 2018 story on global food waste.

How a bacteria-detecting strip of plastic film could help identify contaminated food This is one option to help with food waste. I wonder/hope that the Tricorder solutions might be evolved with sensors and apps developed so your smart device can tell you food freshness/safety. Also the possibility of QR codes to allow real time price adjustments to be made based on freshness and other paramiters.

Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution by U.S. Stuns World Health Officials Story about political pressure being applied to soften/quiet information emerging from life science advances in understanding around the Food/health nexus.

Potential Funders

What are the groups or individuals that are already funding, or might be willing to fund efforts in this space?

TED Global Audacious Project, FAO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Alltech, WWF, CGIAR, Green China, Virgin/Branson, Jeff Bezos, Kimbal Musk, Anthony Robbins, Yves Potvin, etc, etc... It can be just about anyone or any group that cares about food and conservation. In the developed world, any healthcare insurance provider could be a candidate, but they would be less likely to support a global competition. It is also possible for multiple countries to offer prizes for competitors that will come build the solutions in these host nations. (USDA/NIFA just put up $80mm for Sustainable Agriculture Solutions)

https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/sustainable-agriculture-research-funding-resources and https://www.sare.org/Grants are also potential funders.

The only non candidates are the big existing players in the food/agriculture or healthcare/pharmaceutical space, as the outcomes of this competition will be radically disruptive for them.

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