The world is on fire all around us, and the problems can seem too huge and insurmountable to be fixed. Thankfully, agricultural innovation has many keys to the solutions, and consumers are increasingly supporting these innovations with their pocketbooks. Food and agriculture industry leaders, take note: you must step up and lead your industry to champion and implement new, innovative, and sustainable practices that will preserve our planet for future generations to come.
Looking at the world around us, crises affecting the entire human population (not to mention other species and living beings) are getting more dire each day. With overpopulation as the main cause, all 7.7 billion people on the planet are affected directly or indirectly by increasing resource scarcity, climate change, and wealth inequality. These situations cause everyday problems in the lives of billions, including poverty and food insecurity, urban densification, and the rising cost of living.
In order to produce exponentially more product to service our exploding population, the agriculture industry, along with the energy, mobility, and manufacturing industries, have contributed to rising climate change.
How Agriculture’s Traditional Practices Are Affecting Humanity
1. Contribution to Resource Scarcity
Traditional farming practices require vast amounts of land and fertile soil. As production demands increase, the world’s most vegetation dense and nutrient rich areas quickly become targets for deforestation and soil erosion. The Amazon Rainforest, often called Earth’s lungs, is facing the worst deforestation in a decade, driven by cattle ranching, commercial agriculture, and logging. With deforestation comes soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and biodiversity loss. Without a much more efficient use of land for farming purposes, humans will soon face a choice: use our land and vegetation for food production or increase the Earth’s temperature and carbon emissions which causes toxicity for habitation. Acting quickly to preserve our planet’s natural resources is imperative.
2. Contribution to Climate Change
Growing livestock and produce across vast swaths of land and trying to meet aggressive production targets comes with inefficient farming methods that contribute to climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions from cattle, heavy machinery with inefficient carbon emissions, chemical pollutants in fertilizers, and complex, long distance irrigation systems (water transportation is the most inefficient use of energy, and energy production is the leading contributor to climate change). Ironically, the agriculture industry’s contribution to climate change simply creates a more inefficient environment for itself, with volatile weather patterns affecting harvest predictability, as America’s midwest farmland experienced this winter.
3. Contribution to Wealth Inequality, Poverty, and Food Insecurity
In most industries, corporate behemoths reap the benefits of mass production, distribution channel monopoly, and favorable legal benefits and loopholes. The agriculture industry is no different. Farming is an industry long protected by the government by way of subsidies, and the majority of US government subsidies go to an alarming 4% of farms which are unsurprisingly large corporate farms. Thus, wealth inequality is evident at the top of the food chain funnel and extends all the way down to the consumers. After driving out the smaller, local, and family owned farms out of business, the large corporate farms then dominate the inventory with mass retailers. These retailers are predominantly concentrated in middle and upper class urban markets and leave food deserts for those in the underserved neighborhoods and rural locations. Given the cost for this mass food production, transportation, and corporate profits, food access, food excess, and food waste rise for the wealthy and leave more food insecurity for the already under-resourced population.
How Agriculture Must Innovate to Save Our Earth
These global challenges require solutions for the ultimate challenge: How do we produce more food with fewer resources?
Technology innovation is a fundamental piece of the puzzle.
1. Urban, Local, Organic, and Sustainable Farming
As the globe overpopulates, housing, transportation, workplace solutions, and other industries have had to respond to urban densification and forced ingenuity of resource efficiency and allocation. Traditional agricultural farming can learn from these industries with novel methods such as urban and rooftop farming, rainwater harvesting, community composting, and local, organic farming. These innovative farming methods use far less arable land, and instead maximize unused, concentrated hard surfaces that can serve as human-made farms. These space dense solutions close to the end consumers reduce energy and water waste, transportation necessity, and food preservation chemicals. Local farming is also an immediate way to combat food insecurity for urban populations. This accessibility to fresh produce and meats allows local businesses to distribute accordingly.
2. AgTech Application in the Field
As urban farming and its related solutions gain popularity and adaptation, technology can deploy resources such as water, fertilizer, machinery, and human capital in a more efficient way through in-field data intelligence. For example, Anheuser Busch InBev’s SmartBarley program is a platform for its agronomists and barley growers to deploy technologies such as drones, aerial image capture and recognition, data collection, and predictive analytics to help increase the quality and quantity of barley production. Smart application of AgTech is also a key way to reduce food waste as technologies can detect poor quality foods and growth patterns quickly and allow for farmers to adapt their techniques.
3. Plant Based Foods
Finally, to combat the greenhouse emissions, soil depletion, and excessive land use for raising livestock, more emerging technology companies are taking vegan, plant based foods to market and achieving ever indistinguishable levels of meat and dairy taste. Plant-based food sales increased an incredible 20% in 2018 —10x the growth of overall food sales. Miyoko’s Kitchen has consistently won in the vegan cheese category and was selected as a partner for Nestle in the leading food and agriculture TERRA Accelerator. And of course, who can ignore the meteoric rise of mimic-meat Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods?
Agriculture Innovation For A Better Tomorrow
It is imperative that agricultural leaders change their long term approach to meet future global demand.
RocketSpace is equally passionate about transforming the food and agriculture industry through agriculture innovation to solve for the global crises facing humanity today. We are a leading technology innovation consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and London, and we have been curating partnerships between Fortune 1000 companies and leading technology startups since 2011. Through our Industry Collaborative programs such as our TERRA Food and Ag Accelerator, we work towards a cleaner, more sustainable future by leveraging the power of emerging technology. Or, allow us to run a private engagement that is customized to solving your most imminent business challenges today. Set up a call with one of our experts to learn more.