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What’s the Future? Seaweed and the Youth!

By Maxime Brandenburg
2018 Wageningen Borlaug Youth Institute Participant

“What is the biggest lesson you have learned in the last few days?” This was the question my group leader asked me on the final day of this year’s World Food Prize Global Youth Institute (GYI). My answer: ”That we can all make a difference.”

Four Dutch students had the opportunity to travel to Des Moines and became the first students to represent the Netherlands at the GYI. After four amazing days full of inspiring speeches, one thing was clear: we, as students, are the future. We were given the wonderful chance to have breakfast and lunch with the experts present at the annual World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium. And any time we would say it was a pleasure to meet them, most of them replied with, “No, it is a pleasure for us to meet you. Because you can make a difference. You are the future.”

My name is Maxime Brandenburg. And to put it in the words of these inspiring experts: As a nineteen-year-old student from the Netherlands, I am part of this world’s future. I live in a village with 30,000 inhabitants, which is similar to the size of Wageningen University (where I participated in the Youth Institute). In the Netherlands, every student preparing for university must perform a scientific experiment or research project and write a paper about it in order to finish high school. In collaboration with three fellow students from my high school, I chose to examine how seaweed can contribute to ending hunger around the world. With this blog, I hope to take you along in our thoughts  throughout our research process, which took us from the province of Flevoland to Des Moines, Iowa.

More and more people are aware of the great challenge ahead of us - to feed over 9 billion people on this planet by 2050. But where to start? In the Netherlands, many citizens consume far more than the recommended weekly portion of meat. The difference between plant and animal products in their impact on the planet is truly significant. The cultivation of plant products has a 4 percent share in total land use and 20 percent in greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison, the production of beef causes 70 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the production of the same quantity of carrots. Due to the scarcity of agricultural land, food will become more expensive and excessive meat consumption will induce health risks.

It is obvious that changes need to be made. Already, different initiatives are rising to solve the global food problem, such as the consumption of insects and urban farming. However, the combined effort will truly make a difference, so more ideas like these are needed. This is where the consumption of seaweed comes in. On average, seaweed contains 13.6 percent protein, a dietary requirement that is currently mostly fulfilled through meat. Considering these nutritional values, seaweed can be an excellent replacement for meat. The production of seaweed is relatively efficient and can be done in marine environments, which avoids the problem regarding land scarcity.

For our research paper,  we studied the circumstances under which seaweed grows best. As the main result of our paper, we found  that seaweed is able to grow under a great number of circumstances, which makes it very suitable to grow in seas anywhere around the world. This quality makes seaweed a relatively accessible source of nutrients and therefore creates the possibility of feeding people living in less prosperous areas. With our paper, we applied to and won the Wageningen Borlaug Youth Institute competition.  As preparation for the presentations to the GYI, we all individually wrote an essay focused on a different country in the overarching light of our research. We chose Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and South Africa.

Production is possible in all four of these countries. But production is not everything, of course. To integrate seaweed in the diet of Western society, different aspects should be taken into consideration. The consumer must  be aware of the challenges humanity is facing and adjust their diets, keeping in mind the increased food demand for future generations. Furthermore, it is of high importance to create a positive perception among consumers of seaweed. The acceptance of seaweed as a substitute to meat in Western diets will only be achieved when the consumer’s view on seaweed takes a more positive turn. Additionally, entrepreneurs should be informed on the possibilities of seaweed, so they can optimize the production and guarantee food safety. Next to these changes, the government must also realize the advantages of seaweed. A first step must be taken by the government to reserve more resources and invest more money in this sector.

With these steps towards a sustainable seaweed production, we think that the food transition can be initiated, and that changes can be made before it’s too late. And that change can be made - we clearly learned this from all the experts we spoke with during the GYI.

This year’s Laureates, Drs. Lawrence Haddad and David Nabarro, are the deserving winners of the 2018 World Food Prize. Their speeches to the over 200 GYI students were one of the highlights of this experience. They pleaded for us to fight for what we consider important and reach our goals. They told us to believe in ourselves and follow our dreams. On that Saturday morning, I realized even more how special it is to be part of the GYI and how important it is to believe in yourself and in your goals.

12/03/2018 8:00 AM |Add a comment
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