Sustainability of food production, an international perspective



I had a fabulous time with the Nutrition Science first year students of MMU last week when I was invited to give a guest lecture during #gogreenweek


The students are having a series of sustainability lectures over this term and for their assignment, they will look at how they can make their own diets more sustainable.

Sustainability Bingo


Surprisingly, they hadn’t already played sustainability bingo! I have attended so many lectures on food systems, sustainability and how we will feed the world’s population that it would be rude not to include an example bingo card of what you should be able to tick off in any sustainability lecture, worth its salt.

Sustainability BINGO

Of course, the students all knew that by 2050, the world’s population will be 9.5 billion so that was an easy one, however, I went on to tell them about the 6 countries I visited during the Nuffield Global Focus Programme last year.

The tour focused on Japan but went via Singapore, Indonesia and from Japan onto Israel, the UK and USA. I explained to the students how each country has its challenges and strengths, from Singapore, a net importer of 100% of its fruit and vegetables but a significant player in import and export of food in the ASEAN region. Indonesia, with its young population, 20% annual economic growth and examples of sustainable mixed farming systems alongside mono-cropped palm oil production which compared with rapeseed and soybean, yields more efficiently.

We discussed the ageing population of Japan and how young people are being encouraged into farming with new technology but compared to Israel who are ranked number 4 in the world for start-up businesses, the Japanese have some way to go. Consumption of locally grown food was a practice that impressed me from a sustainable point of view in both countries.

I focussed on technology when talking about protected crop production in the UK where some businesses use Combined Heat Power plants to generate electricity and CO2 for their crops. The introduction of anaerobic digesters throws up the question ‘is it better to grow crops just for human food or is growing crops for energy production a sustainable use of land?

The USA was the final leg of my tour and I talked about the efficiency of large scale cheap food production as well as the inability of the poorest people to be able to afford food.

The students have some new information to be able to make some more informed choices about sustainable diets and I was very impressed that the nutrition science programme takes a broad view of food systems and encourages thinking in this way.


Thanks to Haleh Moravej, Senior Lecturer at MMU for facilitating



What makes a good business?

Nuffield Japan GFP – what makes a good business?

Japan GFP
Japan GFP

I spent 46 days travelling as a group of 11 international Nuffield Farming Scholars through Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Israel, UK and USA.

I saw that the successful businesses share certain key practises and I have shared them in this video.

Click on the link at the top to find out….

I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me……. Walt Whitman

Travel is my new normal. The edge of my comfort zone has been pushed by the experiences I have had and the information I have heard.

The Nuffield Farming Japan group travelled from Indonesia this week to Japan and I have been reflecting on my UK centric view of the world. Indonesia was not a country I associated with positive news, but spending time there enabled me to see that they have an economy in growth (approximately 20%) and good trade links with the region. The country is pushing for 100% self sufficiency in key crops but having already achieved 95% supply for rice and with good production in other crops they are doing better than Japan. Indonesia’s population is young with 60% of people being under 30. In contrast, Japan has an ageing population and an economic growth of less than 2%. Both countries are seeing a reduction in the number of young people wanting to work in food and agriculture but with the average age of farmers in Japan already at 65, there is not much time to change the situation without changing the strict immigration laws applying to low skilled workers.

The application of technology in agriculture has been embraced by both countries to entice young people from city desk jobs and into food production.

In Japan, we visited Spread, a company who has the largest lettuce factory in the region producing 21,000 heads at 100g each day.



The technology used for the vertical farming system employs the use of Internet of things (IOT), automated racking to move the crop, controlled atmosphere and water management systems. Factory production in a sealed production hall means that pest and diseases are kept out. There is no need for pesticides and water is applied at the required quantity, meaning there is no wastage. The unit runs with few people meaning that it is labour efficient, however, the electricity is 30% of the input cost and the waste product (roots and leaves) account for 20% of production volume.

Modern greenhouses in the UK and Holland for example, have historically made their own electicity by burning gas or wood to heat a water boiler and subsequently produce steam to drive a generator. The carbon dioxide by-product is fed into the greenhouse to supply the crop.  Waste plant material can also be fed to animals or used to fuel an anaerobic digestion plant.

Interestingly, Spread is not using an alternative energy option or waste optimisation but still has to supply carbon dioxide to the greenhouse.

Comparing this business model to Great Giant Pineapple in Indonesia who use the waste plant material from the pineapple and sugar cane plantations to feed their cattle then use the cattle manure for compost to fertilise the soil, the Spread model looks incomplete.

Each country has its challenges and it will be interesting to see what systems are used to ensure increased food production,  maintainence or improvement of efficiency and sustainability.

The Japan trip continues to Hokkaido and Tokyo……