“Where has the time gone” is a familiar refrain of family life. Before returning to work in 2022, many of us will have been taking stock, thinking about and planning how we hope this year might just be different from the last few. We might even be making some ambitious targets around health, fitness or personal development, (how likely we are to meet them is another matter). But that stock-taking is vital if we are to see progress.
So it goes in the world of sustainability and ESG. This year, our food systems, and how we hope to feed a growing number of people around the world post-pandemic, while dealing with the transition to a clean energy future, must be different from the last. Amid some shocking figures, there is hope in the way ESG-integrated thinking can spark innovation and deliver a positive impact.
After decades of steady decline, the number of people who suffer from hunger began to slowly increase again in 2015. Current estimates show nearly 815 million people are hungry, or around 9% of the world population. When we examine the indicators below SDG 2 on ‘Zero Hunger’, what’s really being called for is a change of the global food and agriculture system, if we are to nourish the projected additional two billion people the world will have by 2050.
See also: – A new agricultural revolution – power to the people
Addressing global hunger is intrinsically linked with climate action. Agriculture is the largest cause of global environmental impact. Food production contributes approximately 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the livestock sector alone represents almost half (14.5%) of these emissions.
Unless these emissions are actively addressed, they will probably increase by 15-20% by 2050 as the Earth’s population rises and the need for food continues to grow. Limiting the impact of climate change will therefore require shifts in what we eat, how much we waste, and how we farm and use our land.
At the same time, we need to think about health. It’s a paradox of the food sustainability issue in that we see under-nourishment in lots of countries, and over-nourishment and obesity in others.
So how do we begin to ensure sustainable food production systems? How do we implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality? There are some exciting trends and developments in food and agricultural information – some of which is more nascent than others – which give us real hope that we can face up to the challenges in this area, including:
Tech reducing waste
Roughly a third of all food is wasted before it is consumed by people. We are starting to see advanced technology hit the food sector helping cut waste and inefficiency. This includes the food sorting during processing by analysing images and data from cameras, X-rays and even lasers, removing a manual process that can be time consuming, expensive, and inaccurate. We are also seeing innovations in the retail side, with dynamic pricing of food in supermarkets – the nearer an item gets to its sell by date, its price is automatically lowered on the shelf.
Emerging applications for artificial intelligence (AI) are helping to create opportunities for “designing out” food waste in the value chain: from farming, processing, and logistics to consumption. In effect, AI can accelerate the transition to an agricultural circular economy, in which growth is decoupled from the consumption of finite resources. AI can be used to interpret images of crops, such as strawberries, to help determine when food should be harvested; the harvesting, in addition, can be done with autonomous robots. This might reduce food waste in the field, and it could enable more accurate yield forecasting by improving information along the supply chain and by maximizing storage and cooling facilities.
CO2 used to make sustainable foods
This is the use of carbon transformation technology to develop air-based “meat” from elements found in the air we breathe. Production doesn’t need any input from chemicals or pesticides, and being lab based, there are no direct impacts on land use.
The process – initially developed in the Space programme – sees gases in the air combined with water and key nutrients in fermentation bins, producing a flour that is rich in protein. The process is driven by renewable energy, also, further enhancing its sustainability credentials.
Clean energy in agricultural supply chains
You might be starting to notice more electric vehicles on roads. Zero emissions farm equipment is also starting to take off; the largest emissions abatement from a single measure can be achieved by shifting from traditional fossil-fuel equipment—such as tractors, harvesters, and dryers—to their zero-emission counterparts. Battery capacity and charging speeds have been the main obstacles to the adoption of electric farm equipment.
However, battery weight is less problematic for farm equipment than for passenger vehicles. A rapid reduction in prices for batteries, which alone account for up to 40% of tractor-component costs, will help further overcome adoption barriers.