Why We Must Rethink Global Food Systems
Improving global food systems will have profound ripple effects. With some 795 million people worldwide going hungry each day, we need to make dramatic changes in the way we produce and distribute food. Solving hunger and food insecurity is a prerequisite to solving other pressing global challenges.
- Malnutrition is the largest contributor to disease in the world.
- Nearly 25% of children worldwide are malnourished, contributing to reduced school performance and impaired brain development.
- Food systems account for 70% of the world’s freshwater use, consume 30% of its available energy, and produce 20-30% of its greenhouse emissions.
- Agriculture is the most significant driver of deforestation, which rose 51% from 2015 to 2016.
Ingredients of change:
- Investment. Between 2010 and 2017, $14 billion went into 1,000 startups related to food systems— a tenth of what was invested in healthcare startups, but if the trend increases, enough to build momentum toward significant changes by 2030.
- Precision agriculture methods. IoT and machine learning will help optimize land and water use, lowering costs, increasing production, and conserving resources.
- Renewable energy. Advanced batteries and other off-grid storage and generation systems will reduce farming’s expenses and environmental impacts while making power an additional “crop.”
- Sensors and Blockchain technology. Greater transparency in the food supply chain, from farm to store, will reduce food waste and loss while preventing tampering, counterfeiting, and mislabeling.
Future food and farming
To feed 8.5 billion people by 2030, we need innovative ways to think about food — as well as how we produce it.
- Tasty, nourishing — and sustainable. A growing human population may not sustain the environmental footprint of commercial livestock production. Instead, we’ll enjoy plant-derived or engineered foods like lab-cultured meat, protein-rich insects used as ingredients, and milk made from genetically modified yeast.
- New farming methods. From “plantscrapers” that tuck vertical farms into urban buildings to bacteria selected by AI to make plants hardier to robotic bees that can supplement or replace nature’s pollinators, we’ll grow more food in places that were previously not considered agriculture-friendly.
Food for thought
- Addressing food insecurity will make a substantial difference in other global challenges:
- Broadening economic development. In less-developed countries, where agriculture employs 60% of workers, increasing farming efficiency will free many people to enter other industries.
- Promoting gender equity. Women currently make up 43% of agricultural labor. Increasing their disproportionately low access to land, technology, and markets will lift them out of poverty.
- Reducing political instability. Food insecurity creates and exacerbates conflict, from food riots to mass refugee migrations. Less hunger means greater stability.
Download the executive brief Virtuous Circles: The Circular Economy Gets Rolling.