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Feeding the Future is no longer just a challenge but has become a global concern, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting the issue of sustainable and secure food production in the face of global demand. The agriculture industry, which is responsible for over 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, must innovate faster and collaborate better to tackle environmental, social, and governance (ESG) challenges.

Fortunately, technology can play a significant role in reducing emissions and improving sustainability. Digital and biotechnologies, genetic technologies, AI and sensors, and data analytics can all play a part in reducing emissions and improving sustainability. Cost-effective measures such as zero-emissions farm equipment, animal health monitoring, and soil carbon sequestration can help reduce emissions. Investment, technological innovation, and behavioral change are needed to scale up these solutions.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) and Bain & Company have researched areas of innovation to jump-start collaboration and identified four “investible themes.” The four themes focus on (1) supporting farmers digitally, (2) creating farm-to-fork data transparency, (3) reducing food waste and enabling circularity, and (4) improving the plant-based food ecosystem.

The food industry needs to address multiple complex issues: greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation; employee safety and fair wages; consumer nutrition and health. Faster innovation and cross-value-chain collaboration are key to driving change. Sustainable food systems (SFS) are critical in providing food security and nutrition for all without compromising economic, social, and environmental bases for future generations. The United Nations (UN) has placed SFS at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition by 2030.

Reducing food waste, promoting local and seasonal food, increasing plant-based food consumption, supporting sustainable agriculture practices, and choosing sustainable packaging can all help reduce the environmental impact of food production. Reducing food waste decreases greenhouse gas emissions that come from decomposing food waste in landfills. Local and seasonal food can reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation and storage. A diet that includes more plant-based foods can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and land use associated with animal agriculture. Supporting farmers who use sustainable agriculture practices can help reduce the environmental impact of agricultural practices. Choosing packaging that is recyclable, compostable, or reusable can help reduce the environmental impact of food packaging.

Feeding the future sustainably requires innovation and collaboration to address complex challenges, from reducing emissions to ensuring food security and nutrition for all. Technology can help reduce emissions and improve sustainability, and sustainable food systems must deliver food security and nutrition while minimizing negative impacts.

  • Sustainability
    • The ability to maintain or continue a certain level of activity or behavior over a long period of time, without causing harm or depleting resources
    • “The food industry is making efforts to improve sustainability by reducing their carbon footprint and using renewable energy sources.”
  • Circular economy
    • An economic system that aims to eliminate waste and promote the continual use of resources by keeping them in a “closed loop,” where materials are recycled or reused rather than being disposed of
    • “The food industry is shifting towards a circular economy by implementing practices such as composting food waste and using biodegradable packaging.”
  • Carbon sequestration
    • The process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, typically through plants and soil
    • “The agriculture industry is exploring ways to increase carbon sequestration in soil, such as through regenerative farming practices.”
  • Sustainable agriculture
    • Agricultural practices that aim to produce food while minimizing negative environmental impacts and supporting local communities
    • “By supporting farmers who use sustainable agriculture practices, we can help reduce the impact of agricultural practices on the environment.”
  • Biotechnology
    • The use of living organisms, such as plants, animals, or microorganisms, to create products or processes that improve human life or the environment
    • “The food industry is using biotechnology to produce plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy, which can have a lower environmental impact.”
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
    • Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and contribute to global warming
    • “The agriculture industry is responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, which are contributing to climate change.”
  • Farm-to-fork
    • A term used to describe the journey of food from the farm where it is produced, to the consumer who eats it
    • “Creating more transparency in the farm-to-fork process can help to build consumer trust and improve the sustainability of the food industry.”
  • Food security
    • A state where people have access to safe, nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences, regardless of economic status or geographical location
    • “Sustainable food systems are critical for achieving food security and ensuring that everyone has access to nutritious food.”
  • Innovation
    • The process of creating new ideas or products, or improving existing ones, in order to create positive change
    • “Innovation is necessary to solve the complex challenges facing the food industry, from reducing emissions to improving food security.”
  • Recyclable
    • Material that can be processed and used again after it has been used or thrown away
    • “Choosing packaging that is recyclable can help to reduce the amount of waste produced by the food industry.”

1. What are some of the biggest sustainability challenges faced by the agriculture industry, and how can technology help address these challenges?
2. How can innovations like digital and biotechnologies, genetic technologies, AI and sensors, and data analytics be used to create more sustainable food systems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
3. What role can consumers play in promoting sustainable food systems, and what actions can individuals take to reduce the environmental impact of their food choices?