Aquatic Plants for Sustainable Food and Protein Production: Implications for Global Food Security
As the 21st century global population expands toward 9 billion people and the demand for higher quality, protein-rich diets increases, a revolution in agriculture is needed to meet food requirements in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Crop diversification efforts that deliver increased biomass and/or protein yields with reduced environmental costs are slow to evolve. Promising, non-conventional crops and protein sources (e.g., algae and aquatic plants) occupy niche markets in nutritional supplements and animal feed but have yet to materialize as disruptive players in the protein sector. Recently, water lentils (i.e., aquatic plants in the duckweed family) have become a focus of commercial farming operations for protein-rich foods. Scientifically credible opportunities exist with water lentils, including: (i) “sustainable intensification”; (ii) obtaining high-quality, plant-derived proteins; (iii) expanding use of non-arable land; and (iv) crop production intrinsically resistant to disease and natural and/or man-made disasters.
Evidence from early-stage commercial water lentil farms indicates large-scale production of a sustainable, aquatic, plant-based protein is a real-world option. Challenges to widespread adoption of this alternative crop include customer acceptance and a lack of clarity and synchrony in the regulatory environment. Promoting novel protein crops such as water lentils can be part of a broader strategy to address the intersection of exploding global food and protein demand and environmental sustainability.