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Frequently asked questions

What is ALLFED’s mission?

The mission of Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters is to help create resilience to global food shocks. 

We seek to identify various resilient food solutions and to help governments and companies implement these solutions to feed everyone in the event of a global catastrophe. We focus on events that could deplete 5% or more of global calorie output, or access to those calories.

Our ultimate goal is to feed everyone, no matter what. An important aspect of this goal is that we need to establish equitable solutions so that all people can access the nutrition they need, regardless of wealth or location.

ALLFED is inspired by effective altruism, using reason and evidence to identify how to do the most good. Our solutions are backed by science and research, and we also identify the most cost-effective solutions, to be able to provide more nutrition in catastrophes.

What is ALLFED and what does it do?

Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED) is a nonprofit organization with two primary objectives:

1) to identify, pilot, and prepare resilient food alternatives, in the event that a catastrophe damages conventional food supplies

2) to help governments and communities implement these solutions during a global food shock

As devastating as catastrophes are, the threat of a global catastrophe is not just the initial destruction, but also the impact it could have on food supplies and distribution. 

We aim to minimize the damage of a global catastrophe by ensuring that the people continue to have access to nutritious food, during and after the catastrophe.

Our work examines several aspects of resilient food solutions:

  • the feasibility of different food options—how they could be grown or produced and what they would cost;
  • how the foods could be scaled up to feed millions of people;
  • how nutritious the different foods are; and
  • the different types of scenarios that might lead to a loss of food—including loss of sunlight, extreme climate change (hot or cold), loss of electricity, loss of industry, and/or loss of transportation—and the different ways to feed people in these scenarios.

In some cases, we might advocate for extracting nutrients from normally inedible material, such as wood, leaves, or grasses. In other cases, we might also recommend that various members of the industry get involved to help manufacture single-cell proteins (like those being used today in many alternative protein products) that are grown with hydrogen or methane. In all cases, we will work with regions to identify the most useful resilient foods that they should include in their backup plan. We will also assist regions to establish implementation plans to ensure they can access these resilient foods in a catastrophe.

Our scientists and engineers study different resilient food options in different regions so that we always have the most up-to-date information on the best food options. Members of the team are also working to build relationships with members of governments and the media to ensure the right people understand the catastrophic risks we are concerned about and how these can be addressed.

Learn more about ALLFED here.

How likely is it that a global catastrophe will affect me (or my family or my country)?

This is actually a complicated question, so let’s break it down.

Will a multi-continent catastrophe occur at some point in the future? Almost certainly.

Will a global catastrophe occur in the next 5-10 years? 20-30 years? And which regions around the world are most likely to be impacted? Those aren’t questions we can answer for certain. However, we can say this: while a global catastrophe is not very likely in any one year, it’s very likely between now and the next 60-100 years. So the odds of a global catastrophe is high enough for concern during your lifetime, and the likelihood of a catastrophe is even greater during the lifetime of your children and grandchildren.

In fact, some very smart people have predicted a high likelihood that a catastrophic event will occur during this century. For example, Martin Hellman, one of our Board members, famously predicted that there was a 1% likelihood of nuclear war each year. While the odds of a nuclear war happening in any given year are low, the odds that it will happen within this century are much higher.

But nuclear war is just one example. There are numerous types of catastrophic risks, and while each might have a low probability on its own when considered all together, the odds of a global catastrophe increase. 

Moreover, a catastrophic risk is often defined as an event that kills at least 10% of the global population, but ALLFED focuses on risks that could 5% or more of global calorie output, or access to those calories. Events that put food at risk like that are far more common, especially since it would only take a couple of smaller events occurring over a short period of time -- such as multiple extreme weather events -- to trigger a famine on such scales. For example, the combination of the COVID pandemic and massive locust swarms in Africa and Southern Asia dramatically increased global food insecurity in 2020 and 2021.

If 2020 taught us anything, it should be that global catastrophes will happen, and we need to be prepared.

Has a global catastrophe ever come close to wiping out humankind?

Some scientists theorize that the eruption of the Toba supervolcano, approximately 74,000 years ago in present-day Indonesia, reduced the world’s human population to as few as 2,000–3,000 adults.

Since then, other catastrophes have harmed humanity at scales that ALLFED looks at. Moreover, researchers from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge and the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford fear that the odds of a global catastrophe are growing, especially as we develop increasingly powerful technologies.

If a catastrophe does not happen, wouldn’t all this work be wasted?

Unfortunately, the probability of a catastrophe is too high. However, even if a large catastrophe doesn’t occur, with an increasing global population and the threat of climate change, we expect food insecurity to be a growing concern. We hope some of the work we’re doing will be able to help ensure people have access to the nutrients they need, if their regions experience extended droughts, severe flooding, massive locust swarms, and other anticipated threats to conventional food supplies.

If we cannot feed people adequately today, how can you claim that we could feed everyone even if the sunlight is affected?

Economics and politics, not lack of food, drive most malnutrition and starvation today. However, during a catastrophe in which food production was significantly reduced, we could experience global famines as a result of insufficient food production. Unrest as a result of food insecurity could lead to conflict and further threats to humanity.

Our goal, “feeding everyone no matter what,” is to ensure that we can find ways to produce enough food for everyone can eat regardless of the type or duration of the catastrophe. We hope that the existence of resilient food solutions will help increase cooperation between nations as they try to feed their citizens.

By helping to prevent catastrophic and cascading scenarios from getting worse, we can help prevent widespread suffering, loss of important social functions, and threats to civilization itself.

How do we feed everyone in the event of a global catastrophe that impacts sunlight and agriculture?

We have developed a number of innovative, resilient food solutions that can be produced with little or no sunlight. Learn more about our suggested solutions here.

Could we really make food from leaves, or wood, or natural gas, or hydrogen?

Yes! And we can very likely get food from other sources as well. Learn more about the various resilient food solutions we think are most promising here.

In a catastrophe, why couldn’t everyone be fed by food grown with aquaponics and food synthesis?

These options are far too expensive, and they would be slow to scale up for billions of people.

Can’t we just store the food we need?

The catastrophes we worry about most would impact food supplies for years, not just for a few days or months. It would cost tens of trillions of dollars to store up enough food to feed everyone on Earth for five years. Moreover, with so much of our food supply going into storage, the current prices of food would increase. Storing some food and strategic resources for emergencies is always a good idea, as long as we recognize that global catastrophes often involve timeframes of years.

What should governments be doing?

Among other things, governments should recognize that these threats exist and will almost certainly occur at some point in the future. Because of the uncertainty in timing, governments need to prepare now to make sure their citizens have enough food. 
There are several key actions governments can take to bolster resilience to global food shocks:

  1. Fund research on risks, threats, and solutions.
  2. Invest in resilience, flexible industries, and preparedness.
  3. Develop response plans and training. 
  4. Ensure response plans and preparedness plans will really work in a catastrophe.
  5. Plan for collaboration between groups of countries, for a range of scenarios.
  6. Support the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) in their efforts to extend the Sendai Framework, to improve their own risk registers by using the revised UN hazards list, and to perform vulnerability and exposure assessments.

A key aspect of the work we’re doing is a cost-benefit analysis of different resilient food options, which means much of the advanced planning that needs to occur isn’t expensive. We can help governments set up plans of action for different scenarios so that if the worst occurs, they’ll be able to respond. If you work for a government and are interested in learning more, please contact us.

Which industries should be involved?

Some of our solutions rely on repurposing various industrial factories and plants to produce resilient foods. There are many industries that could be involved in this repurposing effort, including paper mills, breweries, biomass plants, animal feed factories, alternative protein manufacturing, and others. Learn more here.

Can resilient foods be made at individual or community levels?

We tend to focus on larger-scale solutions, for three reasons:

  1. Governments can establish back-up plans to scale up resilient food processes quickly, to help more people in need.
  2. Larger-scale solutions are typically cheaper.
  3. Not everyone can produce the resources they need, and we need to be able to export food to those regions.

That said, many resilient foods can be produced or grown at a smaller scale, and if communities are able to take care of themselves, that will increase the likelihood that most residents will survive. In some catastrophes, we may also lose transportation, leaving communities no choice but to rely on local resources. So we encourage individuals and communities to consider how our resilient food solutions can be implemented in their communities.

Is this just for wealthy countries or wealthy people?

No! Our solutions are for everyone—for all countries, for all governments, for all communities. That’s another reason we focus on cost-effective solutions. If something happens to our food supply, we need resilient food solutions that are also equitable—we want the most people to survive.

Why focus on resilient foods when there are so many more pressing issues?

There are a number of immediate problems that must be addressed, and we agree they should be worked on. But many of the biggest issues the world faces today could also lead to massive famines if we aren’t able to control or prevent them:

  • New global risks associated with climate change are identified on a regular basis.
  • As long as nuclear weapons exist, nuclear war is a possibility.
  • Cyberattacks could disrupt food supplies and distribution.
  • Other emerging technologies could disrupt access to food in other ways.
  • Multiple risks could be realized simultaneously, or cascade as a result of each other.

And those are in addition to the natural risks, such as supervolcanic eruptions, which have existed for longer than humanity. Our research indicates that for relatively minimal cost and effort, governments can put meaningful plans in place to feed people if a global catastrophe occurs.

Why resilient foods instead of focusing on better food supply chains?

We need both. Better food supply chains will help ensure food gets to people who need it now and in a catastrophe. But if we have a significant food shortage, supply chains alone won’t be enough. We need resilient food solutions as well, in order to feed everyone.

What types of catastrophes does ALLFED consider?

We are science-led and draw on work by others. We focus first on catastrophes that could realistically occur in the next 10 to 40 years. ALLFED considers scenarios that could have a dramatic and negative effect on our food supply. Such scenarios include extreme weather events, nuclear winter, supervolcanic eruptions, high-altitude electromagnetic pulses, crop pandemics, bioterrorism, and more. Learn about all of the catastrophes we focus on here.

How do we define catastrophe?

For ALLFED, a catastrophe is defined as event that could deplete 5% or more of global calorie output, or access to those calories. This 5% threshold is somewhat arbitrary, but what it spotlights is “a disaster at a scale the world is not prepared for,” a scenario in which the World Food Programme (WFP) and others would struggle to deliver food to all the continents that would need it.

We think a lot about scenarios and cascading scenarios which could imperil all of humanity. However, in places like Madagascar, Hawaii, or New Zealand, a “less extreme” scenario could threaten an entire culture, and that would in itself be an appalling loss.

Is ALLFED focused on global catastrophic risks or food security?

We look at the intersection of global catastrophic risks (GCRs) and food security. GCRs threaten the lives of a large percentage of people around the world. We want to ensure that if such an event occurs, that the number of people killed doesn’t then increase because traditional food supplies were destroyed in the disaster. 

Food insecurity can result from a variety of situations, ranging from present-day child malnutrition, to the possibility of global starvation resulting from widespread crop failure. We focus on food security concerns arising from events that could deplete 5% or more of global calorie output, or access to those calories.

We also seek to increase communication and collaboration between the GCR research community and more conventional food security researchers and practitioners, as there is a lot we can learn from each other. Building resilience to global food shocks is an inherently interdisciplinary project.

What research has ALLFED done?

Learn more about our research here.

What about freshwater?

This is a concern of ours, especially if distribution pipes for cities and towns freeze, or if we lose infrastructure functions. We hope to do more research to address how we can ensure people have access to sufficient water, but for now, the loss of food during a global food shock is where our expertise lies and, therefore, our highest priority.

What about biodiversity?

In starvation situations, humans will hunt animals, so preventing desperation will in itself help to protect biodiversity for some species.

We are very conscious of current concerns about the imbalance in domestic versus wild biomass, and about threats to biodiversity. We wouldn’t want any part of our work to cause further harm. In fact, we believe that our resilient food solutions could be used in a catastrophe to help sustain sample populations or microhabitats. These could then be used to help with recovery, repopulation, and natural succession.

How is ALLFED funded?

We’re funded by generous donations, mostly from individuals and philanthropists, who recognize the importance of building resilience to global food shocks, and who believe in ALLFED’s work contributing to this goal. We have received funding from NASA, Jaan Tallinn, and the Centre for Effective Altruism.

Can I be involved? If so, where do I start?

Part of our mission is to develop an alliance of people and organizations interested in this work. Please contact us and tell us about yourself or your organization and how we could work together. We’d love to hear from you.

What is your #1 tip for surviving a catastrophe?

Don’t panic.

Seriously, that really is our #1 tip!

Solutions exist, and as long as people, communities, and governments work together, we can implement them. Perhaps the biggest threat we face is a catastrophe after which people, communities, and governments don’t work together, and instead, in a panic, they hoard food supplies or go to war with each other. We want to prevent that scenario.

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