World’s population is outgrowing its food system
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Feeding the 7.3 billion inhabitants of our planet today is daunting. An increasingly complex, globalized network of actors plays a role in the production, harvesting, processing, sales and consumption of food. This complexity — among major demographic shifts — increasingly threatens the health of the world’s people and our planet.

A quick look at the numbers points to why the world’s current food system is broken. To start roughly 800 million people around the world go hungry every day, while more than one-third of food produced is lost or wasted. The world has more overweight and obese than hungry people, highlighting fundamental problems with both food quality and its allocation.

Further, and in a cruel twist of irony, most farmers cultivating small plots of land less than 10 hectare, are typically the ones not getting enough to eat. This despite the fact they produce 60 to 80 percent of the food supply in developing countries.

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These problems will only be exacerbated by the rising and shifting global demand for food. A rapidly growing global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion people by 2030, increasing global food demand by up to 60 percent. Population growth, especially in developing countries, is accompanied by urbanization — with 2.5 billion additional urban residents projected by 2050 creating unprecedented demand for middle-class appetites and preferences that contribute disproportionally to natural resource depletion and poor health.

 

Because these issues are global, systemic and interrelated, no one actor can solve them alone. Tackling such complex problems requires transforming the system, engaging leaders across industries, geographies and stakeholder groups in coordinated action to reach beneficial outcomes for all.

Following a joint Deloitte and World Economic Forum initiative, leaders across industry sectors, governments and civil society aligned on a framework to guide collective efforts toward an aspirational food system, which is defined along four pillars: inclusive, sustainable, efficient and nutritious.

In collaboration with foremost global food systems experts, and acknowledging potential uncertainty, Deloitte and the forum identified four possible scenarios describing the future of the global food system. These scenarios focus on how food systems may — or may not — nutritiously and sustainably feed 8.5 billion people in 2030. They range from a world in which the division between “haves” and “have-nots” is starker than ever, to one in which international cooperation and innovation reigns.

While the challenges that these scenarios present are big and real, we also see promising trends and solutions emerging. This analysis recognized opportunities for leaders across industry sectors, governments and civil society to pursue food system transformation.

One reassuring sign is the fact that awareness is rising, and consumers are asking more questions about where their food comes from and whether it is healthy and sustainably produced. One of our recent Deloitte consumer studies, Capitalizing on the Shifting Food Value Equation, found that 51 percent of consumers weigh evolving purchase drivers like health and wellness, safety and social impact as more important than traditional ones like price, taste and convenience. The challenge remains that this is still very much a developed countries’ phenomenon, but the general trend and signals are encouraging.

These shifting value drivers affect decisions and investments not just for consumers, but at corporations everywhere. Companies increasingly emphasize “responsible investment,” which considers economic, social and environmental benefits, in their strategies and investment decisions.

Companies also recognize that new values can create new market opportunities. New decentralized business models, including local/mobile food processing in rural areas and urban agriculture in major cities, engage local people, women and youth in food production while addressing issues of sustainability, efficiency and inclusion. Business models focused on smallholder farmer inclusion and collaboration can open new markets to subsistence farmers and provide a dependable source of high-quality crops for food companies.

New technology is also enabling innovation at every stage of food’s journey. From advancements in areas such as CRISPR, new developments in digital technology and data analytics that are transforming agriculture, better understanding of our microbiome, new mobile tools for smallholder farmers such as mobile financial services, SMS-delivered weather, and market price information.

Perhaps most importantly, new models of collaboration are emerging at all levels to connect actors who previously operated in silos. By working collectively and sharing knowledge, expertise, resources and innovations, such partnerships can produce an impact that is greater than the sum of its parts.

So while today’s state of affairs and trajectory can (and should) alarm us, the scenarios we have developed, provide more visibility into potential futures and our ability to shift and address those. Since the current food system was designed decades ago, a lasting transformation may require not just innovative new technologies and business models, but fundamental shifts in mindsets and ways of working to make it more fit for purpose.

Shay Eliaz is a principal with Monitor Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Strategy practice. He is the Innovation leader for Deloitte’s Manufacturing Practice in the US and advises clients globally, helping them respond to the myriad of complex growth, technology, regulator, and innovation challenges present in today’s competitive marketplace.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.