Growing world population means growing need for food
It is clear is that global food production will have to increase dramatically over the next 30 years. In fact, it is estimated that we will have to produce between 25 and 100 per cent more than current levels (Hunter et al., 2017). Key factors driving this greater demand for agricultural produce are expected to be a 25 per cent increase in the world population by 2050 (from 7.7 billion to 9.7 billion), and shifting dietary patterns catalysed by greater global prosperity (United Nations, 2019).
Despite this, agriculture today faces challenges that pose a major threat to the future of global food security and nutrition, while unsustainable practices within the sector are having a major impact on climate change and resource depletion worldwide.
Agriculture is facing an ageing crisis
The average age of farmers is over 60 — farming is not attractive to young people
An alarming fact is that rural farmer populations worldwide are ageing and generational renewal in the agricultural sector is declining. According to recent reports by the European Commission (EC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), over 30 per cent of all farmers in Europe and the United States were above the age of 65 in 2017 (EC, 2017; USDA, 2019). This means that approximately one third of farmers in these regions is nearing or has passed the age of retirement. Meanwhile, less than six per cent of farmers in Europe and only eight per cent of farmers in the United States were under the age of 35 in 2017. This is attributable to a number of factors, including the rural-urban migration of younger generations, the global rise in education levels, better paid job opportunities in non-agricultural sectors, negative perceptions of farming, gender gaps, and other barriers to entry into the sector such as land prices and access to credit (May et al., 2018).
Crucially, these trends have been observed in countries which, like the United States, are major producers and exporters of agricultural produce, including China (Guo, Wen & Zhu, 2015), Italy and Spain (May et al., 2018), and Canada (Qualman, 2018), placing the future of the global food supply under threat.
Agricultural practice is a driving force of greenhouse gas emissions and natural resource depletion
Agriculture is the second largest contributor of green house gasses
Combined with forestry and other land-use industries, agriculture is the second largest contributor of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, surpassed only by the burning of fossil fuels for electricity and heat production (US Environmental Protection Agency, retrieved 2019). In particular, carbon dioxide emissions linked to the transformation of forests into agricultural and grazing land, as well as methane and nitrous oxide emissions resulting from cattle-breeding and soil management practices, account for a large proportion of the atmospheric concentration of GHGs globally. One major consequence of this direct contribution to climate change is that industrial agricultural practices are actually placing their own existence in jeopardy by increasing the vulnerability of farming to climate impacts (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2019).
Agriculture leads to deforestation
Furthermore, current agricultural practices are largely unsustainable in that they account for a major proportion of the depletion of natural resources worldwide. Today, industrial agriculture is responsible for almost 70 per cent of deforestation in Latin America and 30 per cent in Africa and Asia (Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, retrieved 2019) — regions that account for almost 70 per cent of the world’s total forest area and which are essential to the equilibrium of the global carbon cycle, the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people, and the preservation of plant and animal biodiversity (Pan et al., 2013; Nunez, 2019). Other consequences of unsustainable agricultural practices include land degradation (such as the exhaustion of soil fertility and the increased vulnerability of soil to erosion) and water scarcity (with irrigated agriculture accounting for 85 per cent of global water consumption and six per cent of global water withdrawals) (Brauman et al., 2014).
Trust – Consumer confidence is shaken
Consumer confidence has been shaken by an increasing number of scandals
The rise of the informed and conscious consumer, the lack of traceability and transparency in supply chains, and increased global media exposure of food fraud scandals, have all contributed to a growing level of public mistrust in the food and beverage industry.
The digital revolution has provided consumers with limitless access to information that allows them to factor health, authenticity, sustainability and ethics into their nutrition choices. This makes the lack of transparency in food production and manufacturing processes all the more conspicuous and problematic, despite the fact that secrecy is often intended to preserve trade secrets and a competitive advantage (European Technology Platform, 2016). Still, international food law violations and fraud scandals are on the rise, as evidenced by the European Commission’s monthly release of Food Fraud Summary Reports (EC, 2019; see also, EU Food Fraud Network and System for Administrative Assistance, Annual Report 2018).
The seeds of suicide
Monopolistic control over seeds
Something that consumers are generally not aware of is the fact that plant seeds are de facto monopolised by a so-called seed cartel. This monopolistic control over seeds is highly problematic, considering that seeds represent the first link in the plant life cycle and food chain; by extension, when a corporation controls seed, it controls life, especially the lives of farmers.
It is this situation which connects the agrochemical company, Monsanto, to the suicides of farmers in India, as well as to a range of court cases across the world, including Monsanto vs Percy Schmeiser in Canada, Monsanto vs Bowman in the US, and Brazilian farmers’ lawsuits of USD 2.2 billion against Monsanto for unfair collection of royalties (see Shiva, 2019).
“Green” is not enough
Being green does not guarantee sustainability
While Italian agriculture, for example, is a global leader in terms of organic farming, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation, issues such as water scarcity, illegal workers, barriers of entry to women, and an ageing workforce remain pressing concerns.
Green businesses are incredibly difficult to make profitable, they say
Smart farming with the tech agrarian epoch
We at ESG EKO AGRO Italia do not believe that the solution lies in more regulation and bans. The past has already shown on several occasions that regulations are always associated with additional costs, and even if progress makes them obsolete, they can no longer be eliminated.
The world has become accustomed to new technologies changing our lives in a wide variety of ways. Smartphone applications, satellite navigation, online retailing and cybergaming are just a few of the headwords illustrating this fact. With the concept of “smart farming”, a similar change is now also underway in agriculture.
We are convinced that this path will be successful if it not only aims to increase productivity, but also takes sustainability into account.
Geoffrey Jones also says: “For society’s sake, entrepreneurs must be prepared to make that journey” (Varieties of Green Business; Industries, Nations and Time, September 2018).
This is why ESG EKO AGRO is introducing the Tech Agrarian Solution, a smart and sustainable farm-to-fork ecosystem with the potential to:
- transform agriculture into a profitable and attractive prospect for the farmers of today and tomorrow, through profit participation rights, free accommodation and training in the use of cutting-edge technologies
- establish an environmentally sustainable agricultural system, by offsetting carbon dioxide emissions with the management and growth of a tree nursery, using renewable energy sources, reducing water consumption and avoiding the contamination of groundwater with pesticides
- create an organic food supply chain that consumers can trust, by offering them digital access to the life cycle management of the produce that they buy, as well as the ability to trace the origins of ingredients found in a new generation of fresh, all-natural ready-made meals
- demonstrate that sustainable agricultural systems can be profitable and scalable, without the need to rely on subsidies.