As the world struggles to feed a rapidly growing population while reducing emissions, the Middle East can lead food revolution by pioneering precision fermentation that converts energy and a few ingredients into food, according to the latest Strategy& Middle East research.
Agriculture has been tasked to feed a world population estimated to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, 1.8 billion people more than the current size who need to be fed sustainably.
These will also address several issues, such as land and freshwater shortages, GHG emissions, the high cost of nutritious food, and vulnerability to geopolitical risk and economic instability.
“The Middle East, especially the GCC, can answer this challenge and produce healthy low, emissions foods,” said Dr. Yahya Anouti, Partner with Strategy& Middle East and the ESG leader in the region.
Furthermore, the GCC is particularly positioned for success in pursuing energy-to-food since it has the world’s lowest levelized cost of renewables. Energy accounts for 40 to 60% of the cost of manufacturing energy-to-food proteins.
“Assuming GCC producers incur non-energy-related costs similar to the global average, their energy-to-food proteins will be significantly cheaper than those created anywhere else in the world,” Anouti adds.
The energy-to-food process mostly relies on gases and water as the sources of carbon and oxygen, converting energy and a handful of ingredients to various proteins and other food ingredients. The environmental impact is minimal, as it requires very little land or water compared with traditional agriculture, such as animal- and plant-based proteins. It also emits fewer GHG emissions.
“If GCC countries are successful in pioneering energy-to-food, using renewable energy to feed the world could become a prestige project highlighting the region’s technological prowess and ability to take the lead in sustainability. It would also promote regional economic diversification,” said Dr. Shihab Elborai, Partner with Strategy& and the co-leader of the firm’s Sustainability platform.
Despite the potential of energy-to-food, transitioning from lab to table requires overcoming three interconnected challenges: cost, consumer approval, and scalability. “The technology is in its infancy and so expensive,” commented Samer Al Chikhani, Principal with Strategy& Middle East.
To fully benefit, GCC economies must act on six areas: R&D, infrastructure investment, value chain development, talent, regulation and policy, and consumer awareness.