Food forward

Building a better food system faster and at scale

Building a better, more sustainable system of food production isn’t happening fast enough. But “if we can flatten the learning curve on solutions across industries and competitors,” says Jason Clay, who leads WWF’s Markets Institute, “we can make change happen much more quickly.” Clay and his team aim to do just that, increasing the speed and scale of change by identifying and testing new—and sometimes surprising—solutions.

Illustration of indoor farming

Indoor Farming

Growing food using LED lighting, enriched water, and vertical plots may sound unfamiliar, but these tools—all used in soiless agriculture—may be the future of farming. This approach avoids soil erosion, minimizes pesticide use, and requires less water than conventional agriculture. And because it doesn’t require large spaces, soilless agriculture can be used to cultivate produce closer to food deserts—areas lacking in affordable, quality food. Working with organizations in St. Louis, Missouri, WWF is now developing a soilless farm in underutilized downtown buildings, testing ways to grow crops more sustainably while using less energy.

Illustration of shrimp app

Sustainable Traceable Shrimp

Farmed shrimp could play a major role in helping to meet the world’s rising demand for animal protein. But the shrimp industry supply chain is notoriously complex, fostering opportunities for fraud, labor rights violations, and environmental degradation. To improve the traceability of farmed shrimp, WWF helped develop transparenC, a free cloud-based smartphone app that enables users—from farmers and shrimp processors to retailers—to better track where their shrimp originated.

Illustration of ocean plants

Super Greens

As Peter Bryant, senior program officer at Builders Vision—a supporter of environmentally sustainable efforts to grow the seafood industry—notes, seaweed cultivation “has enormous potential to provide more climate-friendly foods and products while also benefiting the ecosystem and economy in the coastal areas where it’s grown.” Farmed underwater without fertilizer, pesticides, or freshwater, seaweed has minimal environmental impact and helps purify the oceans. WWF works with researchers, companies, foundations, and government agencies to accelerate the growth of offshore seaweed farming and to cultivate its use in products from biodegradable packaging to more sustainable livestock feed.

Illustration of cow and cabbage

Unlikely Energy

WWF has documented the success of closed-loop systems on farms where manure can be transformed into fuel. First, manure is collected and fermented in a sealed tank. Over time, bacteria digest the manure, which produces bio-gas that’s then converted into electricity. Leftover waste becomes fertilizer or compost. Working with universities and dairy farms, WWF is researching how food waste can be co-digested with manure to displace fossil fuels, reduce the amount of food sent to landfills, and create new revenue streams for farmers.

Illustration hands holding grains

Smart Crops

Scientists have optimized the production of many crops through selective breeding informed by genome sequencing, but some plant species, called “orphan crops,” have been left behind. To improve the quality of seeds, seedlings, and cuttings; provide more nutrient-dense produce; and better the livelihoods of farmers across Africa, WWF helped to develop the African Orphan Crops Consortium. The group is working to sequence the genomes of 101 important African crops like okra, cow peas, onions, and greens while training farmers at the African Plant Breeding Academy to do their own crop breeding.

Illustration of couple on riverbank

Food Frontier

Could the Mississippi Delta become the next California? WWF researchers who spent two years analyzing the region’s ability to commercially grow produce such as kale, lettuce, and berries think so. The delta is dominated by commodity row crops like rice and corn, while California produces two-thirds of the country’s fruits and more than one-third of its vegetables. As the climate crisis increasingly threatens California’s bounty, shifting some food production to the Mississippi Delta and other regions could help ensure food security and build climate resilience nationwide.

Illustration of fish flying on plate

Salmon Solutions

In 2013, a few CEOs in the salmon farming industry realized that competition had been preventing them from reaching their sustainability goals, and that by working together they could catalyze greater progress at speed and scale. The Global Salmon Initiative, which now comprises 21 companies that represent 50% of the industry, hopes to use that transparency—with guidance from WWF—to sustainably achieve their goals, including sustainably sourcing fish feed, maintaining fish health without polluting the ocean, and achieving across-the-board Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification.

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World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

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