15 global trends that will shape the future of agriculture and the planet

15 global trends that will shape the future of agriculture and the planet

The deadline for changing approaches towards food production is looming. Humanity needs to decide what is better refusing to overproduce food today or not producing it at all tomorrow

15 global trends that will shape the future of agriculture and the planet
Photo: depositphotos.com

The depletion of critical natural resources has reached a point beyond which climate change may become irreversible. It is one of the main points made by participants of the 15th Forum for the Future of Agriculture, a platform where representatives of agricultural businesses and environmental organisations meet for an open dialogue.

This dialogue is urgently needed, as it is not easy to combine climate challenges and food security: to offset the former, we need to make significant transformations in how we approach the latter. The theme of this year's ForumforAg is "Fixing tomorrow, today", and the reform timeline is tight. "We need to fix tomorrow today. Time is running out," said Janez Potočnik, Chairman of the RISE Foundation.

More than 1,000 participants gathered in Brussels to discuss the agri-environmental dilemma, including uninvited activists who oppose the dominance of global companies in the industry and advocate for a change in intensive approaches to agriculture. The need for the latter, however, was not disputed – on the contrary, it was the main message that was broadcast from the stage.

"Everyone can have their own opinion, but no one can ignore the facts," said Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission. "Climate change and increasing resource scarcity are putting us in a quandary. Every sector in agriculture has to change."

Otherwise, according to European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, clean water and clean air may become a luxury for Europeans. "About 18% of our total GDP is already affected by drought," he said.

Mind provides the main factors and theses that show that the future of the agricultural sector has already arrived, and it can be threatening if urgent measures are not taken.

1. The ecological and agricultural theorem that humanity is currently trying to solve is as follows: "How do we satisfy human needs and maximise our well-being in the most energy- and resource-efficient way possible?"

According to Janez Potočnik, hairman of ForumforAg 2023, there is no other way but to change all agricultural systems globally. Production based on extraction must be replaced by production based on cyclical creation. "We need to rethink the existing model," agrees Timmermans. According to him, it should be done not for reasons of some theoretical benefit to the planet, but to save humanity itself, as "the planet can continue to exist without people".

2. The depletion of natural resources is happening faster and faster.

According to Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of MapBiomas and SEEG initiatives and former head of the Brazilian Forest Service, 85 million acres of land have been converted to arable land in the country over the past decade. We have lost 15% of our water surface in the last 30 years. Now our goal is to have zero deforestation by 2030," he said.

A similar crisis is emerging in the depletion of soil and water resources. "We only think about water when we are in crisis mode. We need to empower farmers to manage their business with water sustainability in mind," said Truke Smoor, Cargill's Global Sustainability Director.

3. The current agribusiness paradigm is harmful to the climate, but even at this price it does not solve the problem of food security.

The number of people going hungry is growing. In 2019, the UN World Food Programme provided assistance to 135 million people. Today, this figure is 350 million. According to Martin Frick, Director of the World Food Programme's (WFP) Global Office in Berlin, the world produces enough and even too much food to feed 10 billion people. The reason even the current 8 billion people do not have enough is because of uneven access to resources and distribution systems. "In addition, in both developed and developing countries, most of the grain is not for people, but for animals and bioenergy," he said.

4. Producing as much food as cheaply as possible is a false goal.

Producing inexpensive food in commercial batches is only possible with intensive assembly-line production, which is less and less compatible with the environmental agenda. At the same time, countries are gradually replacing the "produced – bought – consumed" cycle with the unhealthy "produced – bought – thrown away" cycle, which means that production is for sale rather than for the intended use of the goods. This model generates a surplus of food and at the same time preserves hunger in a number of regions, which again proves that there is not a food shortage, but a distribution crisis.

5. Problems with access to food can affect even the most prosperous countries.

It was the case this spring in the UK, which faced a shortage of fruit and vegetables. The main, though not the only, reason for this was the poor harvest of this group of goods in Spain due to drought.

6. Farmers are bearing the brunt of the climate agenda, as it is their business that is facing the need for major transformations.

The industry's natural response to these forced changes is to assess risks and explore ways to mitigate them. As one representative of the farming community noted, an excessively abrupt transition without compensation could turn them 'from heroes to zeros'. "We are not reaching into farmers' pockets. However, global problems have been ignored for too long, so the horizon for responding to them has been radically reduced," Timmermans countered.

7. Four main areas of effort were formulated:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food production and consumption.
  • Eliminating threats to biodiversity. Today, 1 million species are threatened with extinction.
  • Encouraging consumers to switch to healthier foods by informing them about the real contents of their plates.
  • Reducing the amount of food waste. About 20% of all food produced in the European Union is thrown away.

8. No single stakeholder group can achieve such a global goal alone.

The way out is to create a coalition involving large companies, the financial, insurance and public sectors, based on scientific data and innovation.

9. The paradigm shift needs to be shaped in childhood so that in the 20+ years range there is a chance for policy change.

"We have moved to a very materialistic society. Earlier, schools used to spend more time studying nature. Now they are so busy preparing young people to find a place in this 'rat race', to find a way to make money, to succeed," said Dr Jane Goodall, world-renowned ethologist and activist, founder of the institute named after her, in her speech. "It is critical that people understand that we depend on a healthy ecosystem, which is made up of a diverse mix of animals and plants, and each one plays a role. However, ecosystems are collapsing worldwide. Maybe with more education, more examples, we can start to make a difference."

10. To ensure a sustainable food supply for the world, farmers need the most modern tools and technologies.

Agricultural practices must evolve to meet global food demand without causing irreversible damage to soil and other natural resources.

The use of biological plant protection products is still a relatively new and rapidly developing field in Ukraine, and research and development are ongoing to improve the effectiveness and application of these products. The potential benefits of biological control for sustainable agriculture and food security make this area of interest and importance to the Ukrainian agricultural sector.

Another component of success is regulatory systems that are based on a scientific approach and risk assessment.

11. Ultra-large companies are global leaders in the agricultural sector and the only alternative drivers of the new agenda.

Big business is several years ahead of the curve in restructuring its approaches to work, adjusting them to the growing changes.

In practice, it means allocating budgets to research and innovation that reduces the climate burden. The focus is on developing products that combine characteristics that have previously been considered mutually exclusive: increased productivity, biodiversity conservation, reduced impact on natural resources and the climate, and a minimal carbon footprint.

Incredibly, companies have made progress in meeting this challenge.

"We're beginning to understand how to tame the forces of nature," said Mark Hall, Head of Syngenta's EAME Sustainable Agriculture Division. "Syngenta is helping farmers produce crops sustainably by providing them with customised technologies. This approach allows them to use fewer synthetic fertilisers and resources to grow their crops."

12. Artificial intelligence technology is penetrating deeper and deeper into the agricultural sector.

ChatGPT helps solve current problems and find solutions based on Big Data. "In a sense, it used to be done by associations that accumulated the general experience of the industry," says Ranveer Chandra, Managing Director of Industry Research and CTO of Agri-Food at Microsoft, "Now your smartphone can do it". Asked whether the technology will be commercialised, he said that, as with other Microsoft products, the main goal is to make consumers' work more productive, because, in the end, everyone benefits.

13. The role of governments is to create a policy framework and a regular environment that fosters innovation.

The speed of innovation in the agricultural sector directly depends on the creation of a favourable legal and policy environment that encourages the adoption of developments.

Ukraine has recognized the potential of biological control agents and actively promotes their use in agriculture. For example, the Cabinet of Ministers has included biological control agents in the list of recommended plant protection products and has financially supported research and development in this area.

The awareness of the benefits of using biological insecticides for crop protection among Ukrainian farmers is steadily increasing with the accumulation of favourable experience. As a result, the use of these products has been steadily increasing in recent years.

14. Eco-friendly resources for the agro-industrial complex are already being introduced in the markets.

In 2018, the Ukrainian market for biological plant protection products was estimated at around $18 million. According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the market for biological plant protection products in Ukraine in 2020 was worth about $22.5 million.

All biological products can be divided into two groups: biostimulants and biocontrols. The latter is a biological analogue of pesticides, while stimulants can be compared to fertilisers.

For the most part, we have this type of bioproducts, such as biostimulants. This segment exists in Ukraine, it is developing, and there are powerful players in it, including international ones. There are also enough locally produced products.

One notable development in this area is the development of biofungicides to combat fungal diseases of crops. These products are based on living organisms, such as Trichoderma and Bacillus spp., which can colonise plant roots and produce antifungal compounds, thus protecting the plant from pathogens. There is also progress in biological products to control the white rot pathogen. Agroholdings are already actively using them on tens of thousands of hectares.

Another area of research and development is the use of entomopathogenic nematodes and fungi as biological control agents for insect pests. These organisms can infect and kill target insects while being safe for non-target organisms and the environment.

Another important area of biological products for improving plant nutrition is symbiotic and free-living nitrogen-fixing bacteria, phosphorus-mobilising bacteria and decomposers.

In recent years, the use of nitrogen-fixing products has become increasingly popular as farmers seek to reduce their dependence on synthetic fertilisers and adopt more sustainable practices.

15. Even on an individual level, everyone can make a difference.

  1. Switch to a plant-based diet.
  2. Buy products from producers who are switching to more sustainable agriculture. The main feature of such environmentally friendly products is that they cannot be cheap.
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