Here’s the challenge: we need more food, with less land in a more unpredictable environment. To put some figures behind the problem, if current patterns of consumption continue, 60% more food will be needed to be produced by 2050 compared to 2005-2007.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation
also expects the global population to grow by 2 billion people over the next three decades to 9.7 billion. This dramatic increase will be mirrored by the ongoing urbanisation trend, with
68% of the world population; living in cities and towns by 2050.
As urban areas spread, sprawl and stretch, agricultural and other land will be bought up by property developers and house builders, creating a potential scarcity of agricultural land. All of these major changes will be happening as climate change persists.
Global temperatures are expected to rise, but the unexpected element of the phenomenon is arguably more worrying as agricultural planning becomes a guessing game. Even Siberia, a land formerly only known for ice and snow, is currently undergoing a heatwave, for instance. The world is facing this trifecta of challenges alongside what scientists have dubbed a
‘global water crisis’.
If these are the problems, agritech is part of the solution. This growing industry can help the environment by reducing pesticides, stopping excess feed use on both land and in water and increasing yields.
This is something the private sector has recognised and embraced. Our investee Dutch-based Connecterra, which
recently raised €7.8 million, is making the dairy industry more sustainable and productive by creating what the FT has dubbed a
“connected cow”. The IoT and machine-learning-powered technology helps monitor health, feed and other issues of cattle, giving farmers practical solutions.
Connecterra, for instance, recently ran a trial with
two commercial dairy farms in Belgium and helped reduce the use of antibiotics by spotting symptoms early in their cattle, saving farmers money and avoiding a potential build-up of resistance to the medicines. The conclusion of the study? The use of antibiotics could be reduced by up to 50%.
Technology powerhouse Microsoft is also investing in the industry with its
Microsoft for Agritech Startups scheme, which was launched in India this month. The programme plans to “help startups build industry-specific solutions, scale, and grow with access to deep technology, business, and marketing resources.”
Empowerment of the agritech industry has also come at national government level. The UK government launched its own agritech strategy
way back in 2013, for example. But the problems, outlined above, are global and it therefore needs to be dealt with at this worldwide level.
That is why we are calling on the business and public sector world to come together and create a global agricultural strategy. Policy makers, lawmakers and industry should seek to decide how best to invest in the agritech industry, how to promote it and how to remove any barriers, including legislation, from innovation. Given the immense challenges we face, such an initiative needs to happen sooner rather than later.