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How can technology help feed the world?

3 June 2023 09:00 (UTC+04:00)
How can technology help feed the world?

Nearly 10 billion people are expected to populate the world by 2050, making it more important than ever to find new ways to feed ourselves.

Cutting-edge technology is today altering how we produce food, reducing waste and boosting sustainability.

Rising demand means food production must rise by between 30% and 60%, according to Simon Haworth, a partner at Tramlines Fund, a UK-based firm investing in growth capital for sustainable agricultural technology, or agri-tech.

The social cost of not doing this would be "absolutely terrifying," Haworth told Anadolu, adding that while billions are being invested in agri-tech globally, this simply is "not enough," given the urgency of the situation.

The end result could be a "famine-type" event of proportions "terrifying to imagine," he added.

Climate change will only make the situation worse, since once the temperature increases in some of the hotter areas of the world, growing crops there will be virtually "impossible," he said.

Under those circumstances, "the unfairness" is that the rich and nations in the West will be better off, despite being responsible for most carbon emissions in the world.

"So, it's a dreadful thought that the worst-off countries will be the ones that suffer the most, and that will be a terrible consequence," said Haworth.

- Food in climate action, biodiversity

Food is responsible for more than 25% of all emissions, so reaching net zero would require the world to "fix our food system," said Samia Qader, senior principal at Climate VC, an EIS fund and syndicate also based in Britain, that invests in over 100 climate tech companies.

"There is no path toward mitigating the climate crisis without addressing the problems in our food system," she told Anadolu.

Many promising technologies that are leading the way toward a more sustainable future and transformation in farming can greatly contribute to the climate cause, Qader underlined.

According to her, these include increased adoption of regenerative agriculture and the use of deep technology in agriculture — robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science and satellite imagery sensing.

However, cellular agriculture and alternative fertilizers, which involve finding new ways to produce fertilizers and creating synthetic ones without the use of fossil fuels, play an important environmental role, said Qader.

Food systems contribute to about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions and the vast majority of biodiversity loss.

Climate change is another primary driver of declining biodiversity, making it critical to tackle the two issues together, according to Qader.

While biodiversity has been on a downward trend for the "better part of the Holocene," the current geological epoch ongoing for the past 12,000 years, its decline has been accelerating since 1900 and the planet will likely "take millions of years to recover."

There are still significant challenges around measuring biodiversity and assigning it a "value," which is why regulatory support and action will need to play "a major role," she added.

- Robots help feed the world

The key thing to remember is that "we have to change the way we farm if we are going to feed everybody" and have an environment in which we can "survive," according to Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder and CEO of The Small Robot Company, a firm focused on technology used to produce food.

For him, technological progress is the best way to get humanity where it needs to be on this issue.

"There are fantastic methods brought in from the 19th century called regenerative farming, and they work absolutely brilliantly, but they take a while to work," he told Anadolu.

To be able to deploy this across all farms in the world and still produce enough food, we must take "that 19th century information and use 21st century technology to be able to make it work effectively," he added.

People need to figure out regenerative farming and use that data to help feed the world.

The use of robots in farming and food production will reduce the amount of chemicals in the field, while doubling to help farmers save money.

From the environmental perspective, it also eliminates dangerous runoff and waste, helping limit damage, he added.

In other words, by using robots, a path can be plotted to a regenerative, chemical-free farming future, driven entirely by data, said Scott-Robinson.

Technology can help produce "more food with less or fewer chemicals on less land" and, as a result, the world would be in "a more sustainable situation, while still everybody is being fed," he added.

- Ukraine war

According to Haworth, the partner at Tramlines Fund, the war in Ukraine made the need for food system transformation even more urgent.

"We (at Tramlines) use a very trite joke sometimes, which is that there's this guy called Vladimir Putin, who is our head of marketing. He has done an extraordinary job in bringing to people's attention the fact that food security matters," he said.

In Haworth's opinion, most people are unaware of how grain and other foodstuffs produced in Ukraine can affect their own market.

"So, Ukraine has crystallized the opportunity and has provided enormous momentum for change in the space," where technology is now starting to play an important role when it comes to new innovative ways of feeding ourselves, he added.

- 'Agri-tech revolution'

With the world's population continuing to balloon, the concept of climate change and newly found understanding of food security issues, new innovative ways of producing food and the technology to do it are needed, according to Haworth.

"Believe it or not, there's also another whole field for food innovation, which is, when we finally manage to leave this Earth, we're going to have to take the technology with us to produce food on distant planets, distant locations.

"So, it's an enormous issue for us all to address. But time is running out. We have to get on with it," he continued.

Haworth said agriculture has been "a sleeping giant that has now awakened," adding that the "agri-tech revolution" is going to completely change the system and the way food is produced.

Technology is key to sustainable agricultural that will help feed the world, he said.

"That revolution is upon us. It's fantastic. It's really underway."

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