As we grapple with numerous challenges, organizations and countries need to take and quick decisive actions backed by the right investments to enable sustainable living
The year 2022 has been a challenging year for the global food system, to say the least. It uncovered several structural weaknesses in the wake of challenges such as extreme weather events, supply-chain disruptions, geopolitical tensions, international conflicts and growing food wastage. The year also exposed our inability to manage global hunger and food security, reversing the progress made over decades of efforts. The enormity of the challenge is evident from the fact that food security, climate-resilient agriculture and agri-financing were the central theme of discussions at the recent COP27 event in Egypt and the G20 Summit in Indonesia.
Here are some significant agri-food and agritech industry trends I expect to accelerate in 2023.
Expect investments in sustainability projects to continue to see momentum. The United Nation noted recently that the world has not been doing enough to help poorer nations withstand the effects of global warming. Climate adaptation finance has been woefully underfunded. This has started to change in 2022 and will accelerate in 2023. We will see more and more of PepsiCo’s recently announced $1.25 billion 10-year Green Bond to fund eligible Green Projects, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s pledge of $1.4 billion to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia build climate resilience into their work practices, and the US Department of Agriculture’s plans to invest up to $2.8 billion in 70 selected projects under the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities plan. We expect the private sector’s contribution will see new heights in 2023.
Digitization of agriculture is one way to reduce the climate impact of farming as well as the impact of looming economic slowdown in certain regions. We expect enterprises and governments around the world to accelerate technology investments in agriculture—leveraging advancements in cloud computing, earth observation, remote sensing, data and AI/ML models—to help the sector unlock new possibilities while solving real-world agricultural problems. This can significantly boost food production, improve profitability and reduce operational costs which are crucial in a downturn.
There will be a strong focus on maximizing the visibility and transparency of global food systems. This means combining expertise in multiple areas such as data science, digital applications, GIS, agri-science, agronomy, AI/ML models, weather data, IoT and drones, among others, to deliver better visibility and intelligence around the agri-production lifecycle. Organizations will be compelled to push the boundaries of science and technology to find meaningful solutions to future-proof agriculture.
There has been a massive focus by private players, governments and development agencies to build farmer-centric solutions over the past couple of years. We expect this trend will significantly pick up pace in 2023. Of the estimated 580 million farmers in the world, a staggering 500 million are small-holder farmers who are not easily accessible. Global food-system stakeholders have realized that meaningful and enduring transformation of agriculture is not possible unless smallholder farmers at the grassroots level are trained and enabled to adopt smarter, more efficient and sustainable ways of farming. Digitization and intuitive, inexpensive and easily accessible technology can go a long way in making this happen. Farmer empowerment at the grassroots will take center stage in boardrooms of agri-businesses next year.
Nations will take concerted measures to build self-reliance and self-sufficiency in food production to feed their citizens. Nations have realized that creating a self-reliant food system is a strategic imperative. Very high dependence on a few markets for major crops, staple foods and raw materials such as pesticides and fertilizers opens up governments and whole populations to the risk of disruptions in food production and the threat of food insecurity. Governments will step up large-scale adoption of technology and data to help their economies to build self-reliance by increasing productivity, efficiency, and predictability in their food-supply systems.
Reducing food wastage will become a priority for economies as the world grapples with food insecurity and economic instability. Today, one-third of food produced globally is lost or wasted. Technology will play an increasing role in helping to check this. Soil sensors can help monitor soil health to prevent the loss of crops in the field. Digital solutions can monitor the crop lifecycle and send real-time advisories to growers that can help them to reduce wastage in the cultivation process. IoT-enabled connected farming solutions can enable farmers, processors, and retailers with end-to-end traceability of food produce.
We expect more investments to happen in soil conservation and biodiversity. Good soil health is at the root of productive agriculture. A lot more needs to be done on this front to check soil degradation, and maintain and improve soil health. Farmers need to be guided by data-driven decisions on the optimal use of water, pesticides, and agrochemicals and regenerative farming practices that can nurture soil health. Policymakers, agrochemical companies, technology players, and NGOs will come together with new initiatives and investments to safeguard the soil.
As we grapple with numerous challenges, organizations and countries need to take and quick decisive actions backed by the right investments to enable sustainable living and protect our planet at large. The year 2023 could very well be a make-or-break year for us to decide our fortunes. We shouldn’t let the food system fail and the time to act is now!