Agriculture and Food Security

Feeding 10 Billions People

Demographs anticipate  a world with 10 billion people by 2050. This, together with the emerging prosperity will result into a demand for better and more diverse food, more proteins or meat. Combining all these elements will result into  a need for food supply that will probably have to increase by 70% by 2050. However, one can expect that the climate change will affect  the agriculture and make the water stress  only worse. This means   that Food security will become a major challenge. 

But feeding sustainably 10 billion people is not beyond reach, provided that an articulated multidimentional policy is implemented globally. 

The WRI has developed such a plan, articulated along 21 recommendations, from  reducing food waste, shifting diet, reducing methane from enteric fermentation, etc.... detailed in their full-report

The National Geographic Magazine presents a readable insight into the challenges, and possible solutions to feed 10 billion people.

In the same way, the Oxford Martin School is doing research on Food Systems and security, a.o. in relation to climatic change impact (see example), and the CCASF publishes Research on Climate Change and impact for Food and agriculture systems.

Reducing Food Waste

There is a rather recent awareness that there is a serious potential to develop a more sustainable food chain supply by reducing food waste. And as per this summary of The Guardian, it is not minor: about 30% of the food that is produced is not eaten. Therefore, investing at a more sustainable agriculture by reducing waste can produce a substantial pay back, up to 400 bio $ per year according to GreenBiz.  And governments and organisations such as the EU, the FAO, Switzerland or others, to name a few, have proposals to tackle this.

Precision Agriculture

Precision Agriculture is qualified as the "new agriculture revolution".

What is it about? Quoting IBM: Traditionally agriculture is practiced by performing a particular task, such as planting or harvesting, against a predetermined schedule. But by collecting real-time data on weather, soil and air quality, crop maturity and even equipment and labor costs and availability, predictive analytics can be used to make smarter decisions. This is known as precision agriculture. 

It is consequently a field that attracts a considerable amount of R&D, from Big-Data and predictive modelling to machinery and equipement.

While the potential for improving farm yield and productivity for water and fertilizers and reducing the environment impact is seen as considerable, there are some concerns that this is exposed to technology push, that the feasibility may be restricted by expertise and knowledge gaps, or that accurate data are not made freely available.

See this basic  introductionvideo, or this more technical and detailed one, and get an extensive review of it's potential for Europe by getting the Report from the European Commission on agriculture  here.

Agriculture in Africa

Africa seems to be most at risk with food safety. But it has also enourmous possibilities to improve agricultural output, from a present 280 billion$ to 880billion, mainly by:

- extending the surface of arable land: presently, large surfaces are not exploited.

- increasing farmer's yield: presently, it is up to half only world averages for main crops.

- cultivate highe value crops, such as fruits or vegetables.

Read the McKinsey report here

HighTech Agriculture

The Economist is exploring in this briefing article the potential of High Tech Farming, which  is raising a lot of expectations that solutions will become available to address the challenges of Food Security. Beyong Precision Agriculture described above, it should combine machinery equipped with GPS, sensors, data aquisition and processing, together wit new breeding techniques that should provide ways to improve farm's yields.

GMO's providing pesticides and herbicides resistance were OK for crops such as maize and soya beans used as animal fodder, or cotton, but did not pass the broader test of consumer acceptance. 

New breeding techniques such as  CRISPR/Cas9 for DNA molecular editing linked to identification of phenotypic traits with single DNA letter edition or variation, all of this  enabled by huge computing power might have a better acceptance, since no haphazardeous DNA transfer from bacteria is taking place.  But this is yet to be validated.

Another technique could find a wider acceptance: Genomic selection, a superior version of marker-assisted selection, a process which has itself been replacing conventional crop-breeding techniques. Both genomic selection and marker-assisted selection rely on recognising pieces of DNA called markers found in or near places called quantitative trait loci (QTLs). But now new improved detection methods are using single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs as markers.

The Global Food Security Index

The Global Food Security Index (GFSI) is aiming at quantifying, and therefore enabling tracking and progress on the fron of Food Security. It considers the core issues of affordability, availability, and quality across a set of 113 countries and looks beyond hunger to the underlying factors affecting food insecurity. 

It is translated into a long-term trend paper for policy-making.

Food Safety and Norms

The European Site on Food Safety and Regulations provides an entry point to topics related to Food Safety, Quality, Norms and Regulations, and more....