Baerbel Hundt

A Clear Vision around a Common Goal

Creating a shared future in a fractured world was this year’s theme of the World Economic Forum in Davos. More than 3,000 leaders from over 100 countries came together, as every year, to focus on finding ways to reaffirm international cooperation on crucial topics and to drive positive change around them. This year’s theme was on the increased need for collaboration, openness and system-wide action.

Food security and agriculture were important topics in many discussions. Participants not only reflected about ways to improve the efficiency of food production, but also looked at the food system in its entirety since they are failing to provide a healthy and nutritious diet to nearly half the world’s population. To address this issue the World Economic Forum implemented the system initiative “shaping the future of food security and agriculture” which is part of a whole range of system initiatives that seek to connect people and industries in order to develop systemic solutions to key challenges – such as building inclusive, sustainable, efficient and nutritious food systems (Fig. 1).

Those participating also reflected on the role of innovation and technology in accelerating the transformation of food systems. Our food systems are decades behind other sectors in adopting technology innovations. A new World Economic Forum report, launched during the annual meeting, called “Innovation with a Purpose: The role of technology innovation in accelerating food systems transformation” found that technology start-ups related to food systems are attracting a fraction of the capital of those in the health sector. Since 2010, the healthcare sector attracted $145 billion in investments in 18,000 start-ups, while the food sector attracted only $14 billion for just over 1,000 start-ups in the same period.

Baerbel Hundt, Senior Consultant Sustainability, Bayer
Baerbel Hundt, Senior Consultant Sustainability, Bayer
Baerbel Hundt, Senior Consultant Sustainability, Bayer

The report highlights 12 emerging technology innovations — the “Transformative Twelve” (Fig.2 ) — with the potential to improve the current food system. Some of these technologies are more mature than others; some might be more applicable in developed countries while others are a better fit in developing countries. Regardless, scaling these technologies could deliver significant positive impact and help towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 — the magnitude of their impact has been included in the report.

Some of the examples shown in the report help understand the effect technology can have in our food systems. For instance, if 70-90% of farmers in developing countries adopt mobile service applications by 2030; mobile service delivery could put financial services, agricultural information, supply chain information, and market access right at a farmer’s fingertips generating up to $200 billion in increased income for them (example). Another interesting example is the effect of digitalization: if 15-25% of all farmers adopted precision agriculture (example) for input and water use optimization by 2030, freshwater withdrawals for agriculture could be reduced by 2-5%. This volume of water is larger than the United States’ Lake Tahoe (source).

Feeding an expanded population nutritiously and sustainably will require substantial improvements to the global food system. These improvements should afford an improved livelihood for farmers, particularly smallholders, as well as nutritious products for consumers. Therefore it is incumbent on all leaders to Strengthen global food systems by facilitating collaboration, and leveraging technology and innovation. Equally important to making this New Vision for Agriculture a reality would be to organize new investments, partnerships and best practices.

Several conversations at this year meeting revolved around the co-development of solutions to provide a healthy and nutritious diet to the world’s population. While some of the efforts identified the need to shift from traditional diets to alternative sources of nutrition, it became clear that technology provides the best opportunity for food system innovation. Some of these conversations focused on how to help consumers make better food choices and placed high importance around agriculture’s role to find a solution. During the discussions it became clear that technology provides the best opportunity for food system innovation. The consensus was that digital platforms will enable future sustainable business models which will allow multiple individual transactions between producers and off-takers, facilitating traceability and opening new avenues for aggregation and coordination.

Bayer, through the Crop Science division, is a partner in the initiative “Shaping the future of food security and agriculture” and actively participated in these discussions; it is only natural that we should be involved. Agriculture is what we know, what our scientists are passionate about, what every single one of us loves doing; it is at the root of food security and what we desire for others and for ourselves: a healthy population where lives can thrive.

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