As the world population continues to grow, one of the biggest issues facing the food system is trying to balance the demanded increase in production of animal protein, and the stresses that it places on the environment. By 2050 when the population is set to hit nine billion, there will there will be a 70 per cent gap between supply and growing demand, and there is simply not enough arable land and water for traditional agriculture to bridge the gap.

 

Past 'food revolution' initiatives have fallen short

 

Past initiatives to dramatically increase land productivity, such as the "green revolution", came with a significant environmental cost. While it did increase crop availability, the mass farming approach led to the increased use of fertilizers and release of greenhouse gases. The solution increasingly lies in aquaculture, which is intrinsically less harmful than land-based protein production, but still needs to reduce its environmental footprint if it is to scale up and help feed the growing planet.

 

What will we eat in the future?

 

“The big question is straightforward: how are we going to feed ourselves?” says Avrim Lazar, the Convenor of the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI), a leadership initiative established by CEOs from around the world, including Norway, Chile and Scotland, which aims to provide a healthy and sustainable source of protein to the growing population. Farmed salmon is one of the most popular seafood choices, and with its high Omega 3 content it offers significant potential in feeding the world with highly nutritious protein. “A rapidly growing salmon farming sector is part of the answer, but if we are to meet our potential we need to continue to further improve our environmental game, at scale and at speed."

To ensure change at scale and speed, GSI members have been experimenting with pre-competitive collaboration, which means that rather than competing with one another on environmental matters, they are sharing their expertise, research and breakthroughs in order to accelerate progress and raise the bar for the whole industry, rather than just a few. To ensure progress in the right direction, GSI members have adopted the most stringent of environmental standards, The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) as their reference point for environmental and social performance, and have made it their goal to be 100% certified by 2020. To ensure accountability all members are publishing their sustainability performance results annually via an online Sustainability Report. With more than half the global industry participating in GSI, the potential for wide scale change in sustainability is enormous.

 

The motivation behind companies becoming sustainable

 

Recognising the potential of working pre-competitively, the current focus areas for the members are the ensuring the future sustainability of feed resources, and improving disease management. Focuses may change with time, as industry priorities shift, but the central mission is core: increasing the eco-efficiency of farming while minimising any impact on ocean ecosystems and ensuring a healthy product.

In addition to sharing of knowledge, there have been many other benefits too. Companies taking part have seen an immediate return on their reputational capital, and because the public tends to think of the salmon industry as a whole rather than divided into individual companies, this has boosted the whole industry’s standing. Most importantly it has induced a certain pride among members in being part of a group that is quite simply doing the right thing which keeps them engaged and committed to the project. For an industry often located in remote areas, an improved reputation is also appealing to bright young graduates who want to work in ethically attuned industries. “There is a real motivational force in being part of a gang who gets it – and does the right thing,” Avrim says.

Impressive as this shift in thinking is from the salmon industry, it is not enough to address the challenges to our food system. What we need is more sectors to follow the example of the GSI: setting the bar high and working together to achieve speedy results. Our future and the future of the planet depends on it.