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  • David A. Smith

Feeding the future

The world’s population is set to grow by 2.2 billion between now and 2050[i], and given that this is in tandem with rising prosperity, we are forecast to need an extra 70 percent of food than we did in 2009[ii]. Despite the serious challenge of climate change it is thought that a range of technologies, from GPS and drones to robotics will help achieve much of the needed gains.

In order for a sustainable breakthrough, however, the future of food is going to have to depart radically from its traditions. This is unavoidable if we are to sustain a growing array of environmental, economic and social needs. Business as usual, plus technology, as in so many other industries, will probably not meet the multiple demands being placed on food producers.

Given the water intensiveness of meat, for example, alternatives are needed. Indeed, the alternative meat industry could become toward a $140bn market by 2030 and by 2040, AT Kearney believes that 60 percent of all meat will either be grown in vats or come from textured plant proteins[iii]. It is perhaps worth noting that 3D printing could also become a viable production method of proteins, however unappetising that sounds. It will be interesting to see how such trends collide with social trends. The global halal food market is expected to reach $739 billion by 2025 from $436 billion in 2016 as the numbers of Muslims approaches one third of Earth’s total[iv].

Regardless, the shift from industrialised agriculture to scientific agriculture could be one of the most important changes in the last hundred years or so. UBS notes that ‘…the ability to grow food in a lab that replicates meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products — with a lower carbon footprint and without the need to slaughter animals — is likely to become a commercially viable option in the next decade[v].’ The World Economic Forum, meanwhile, suggests that food computers could be the future of agriculture[vi]. Precision fermentation and the ‘food-as-Software’ trend are helping dramatically lower manufactured protein cost. One report suggests that by 2030, the U.S market for ground beef could shrink by 70 percent, the steak market by 30 percent and the dairy market by almost 90 percent[vii].

What food producers should do about such trends remains dependent on their skills, networks, and even marketing. What they cannot do is ignore such trends. Fully autonomous farm equipment is already becoming commercially available, meaning machines will be able to completely take over a multitude of tasks[viii]. Farming is already, in places, a highly digital industry. If farmers and others in the value chain are to remain relevant, they need to build bridges between what they today and what food production could look like tomorrow.

[i] Source: UN, 2018

[ii] Source: CNN, 2019

[iii] Source: CNBC, 2019

[iv] Source: PRNewswire, 2018

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