The Future of Food: We are running out

Picture this: The world has ran out of water, quality agricultural soil and therefore food. We apologise for the inconvenience caused.

It sounds like an unrealistic scenario, however there are early signs that signal a shift to this alarming reality.

The food industry is faced with a challenge to feed a rapidly increasing population. In 2030 8.5 billion people will be in need of food. That is an impressive 1.1 billion people more than today.[1] And rightly focusses our attention to increasing yield.

However, a higher yield, could have undesirable consequences for the world if the production is unsustainable.

The food sector currently accounts for 70% of water withdrawal – the total volume removed from a water source such as a lake or river. These extraction volumes have increased threefold over the past 50 years and demand is expected to rise by a further 40% over the next decade. On top of that, about one third of arable land is degraded – a figure that continues to grow and is related to farming intensity and expansion into marginal production areas. Unfortunately for us, water and land are a finite set of resources on which we are currently wholly dependent for our next meal. Resources we as consumers, businesses and government must protect.[2]

So what do we suggest we do to create a sustainable future of food?

Governments

  • Carefully set adjusted prices on carbon and water
  • Stimulate on-farm diversity and rebalance the “food baskets” regions of the world
  • Facilitate market connectivity such that innovation in sustainable farming is able to scale
  • Continued public investment in R&D and sustainable advisory services especially for priority themes such as enhancing water use efficiency
  • Avoid deprioritisation of environmental agendas in view of immediate economic concerns such as job creation.

Businesses

  • Invest in water efficiency innovation, smart farming and reuse of watering solutions
  • Increase collaboration with other businesses and universities to boost innovation
  • Educate the consumer such that sustainable effort is valued and costs can be recovered
  • Minimise food waste and/or repurpose produced food
  • Ensure short-term gains do not distract from long term economic principles.

Society, including media

  • Educate consumers and promote sustainable products
  • Empower and mandate global organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation, to broker global solutions to the food systems challenges we face.

The future of our global food systems holds risks for sustainability, and solutions will require a whole of system approach.

Our choices as consumers, businesses and governments – through action or inaction – will determine our path.

Note: The Deloitte and WEF study, Shaping the Future of Global Food Systems: A Scenarios Analysis, explored various likely scenarios based on consumption and market connectedness. It looks into ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ food will be produced and consumed including the possible implications on economic development, sector configuration, network risks, inequality, hunger, poverty and climate change. This is the second in a series of blogs on the Future of Food, the first was: Overweight and obese – the choice is ours as consumers, or is it?

 

[1] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/IP/2016/NVA/WEF_FSA_FutureofGlobalFoodSystems.pdf
[2] Ibid.

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