The improved environment and livelihood conditions in developing countries have been, in part, enabled by investment in agriculture. This investment generated great improvements in agricultural yield and efficiency, which reduced the cost to the consumer, and enabled investment to occur in areas far beyond agriculture. Similar growth and opportunities will face significant challenges, particularly while world populations grow at unprecedented rates and more food production is needed. In developing countries, the challenges are most dire; it is precisely in these regions where production increase is needed and the effects of climate change are expected to be the most severe. There is a critical need to identify new approaches for providing food security for the world of the future.
Engineering solutions will undoubtedly play an integral role in ensuring a secure food supply. At minimum, there is a need to further improve our efficiency. Worldwide it is estimated that one third of food is lost on average, although estimates have been reported to be as high as 50%. In developed countries, losses primarily occur at the retail outlet and with the consumer due to exceedingly high quality requirements, whereas in the developing countries, significant losses occur at the producer, storage, and transit stages. New engineering solutions in supply chain logistics will target key opportunities for reducing these losses, delivering these foods to consumers, and keeping costs low. During production, precision use of external inputs, like irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides, can be managed more efficiently to minimize applications in areas where they are not necessary,while reducing cost, managing risk, and improving yield. Engineers will need to provide technology and practices to improve yields by growing crops in new environments, including indoor and underutilized outdoor environments, with affordable cost and minimal environmental impact. The crops themselves can be reengineered to be tolerant to temperature and water stress or for reduced nutrient or pesticide requirements, improving yields, even in adverse conditions.The pressure to feed growing populations, or to turn a profit, can lead to pressure to take risks with the distribution and consumption of unsafe foods.New sensing and tracking technology will provide the capability to ensure that our food supply is not only sufficient in quantity, but also safe to consume.
The conference will offer an opportunity to cover many of the challenges and opportunities for engineers addressing food availability and security int he context of not only the developed and developing countries, but also in rural and urban settings, using physical and biological technologies, and many others.