Tony Blair Institute for Global Change Report: Technology to Feed the World
The world’s population is projected to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050 – an increase of 2 billion people from today – with the population of sub-Saharan Africa alone expected to double. As governments across the globe grapple with the impacts of climate change and the rise in food insecurity due to Covid-19, an existential question is also coming into focus: How do we prepare now to feed 10 billion people?
Although our current food system fails to meet the needs of people and the planet, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. Emerging technologies present us with a growing range of opportunities to transform our food and agriculture systems. To harness these opportunities, policymakers, scientists and entrepreneurs must:
- Identify the opportunities these innovations present for health and nutrition, our natural environment and economies.
- Uncover any unintended consequences, trade-offs and gaps in our understanding of these innovations.
- Assess their relative maturity and feasibility, and identify those that hold the most transformative potential.
- Identify barriers, and therefore the questions that need to be answered, to successfully implementing new innovations globally and at scale.
This paper explores these key areas. It illustrates the significant potential of some of the most transformative food and agriculture technologies, while outlining some of the underlying challenges of bringing them to scale responsibly. It also begins to address some policy areas that warrant attention from governments and highlights the questions that we must address to create a food system fit for the 21st century – a system that delivers for everybody, everywhere.
High-level messages for governments:
- Countries should embrace food technologies and seize the economic, environmental and health rewards.
Food systems are intimately connected, meaning that by transforming them, we can collectively tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. Food technologies enable us to improve health and nutrition, promote environmental sustainability and deliver economic growth. Governments should seize this significant opportunity.
- Scaling food technologies requires overcoming several barriers. Governments should lead the effort.
Technology in itself does not deliver positive change. It’s how we develop and deploy these technologies that matters. There are some key barriers to scaling up food technologies: vested interests, lack of demand, lack of risk capital, infrastructure and inputs such as power, regulatory burdens, and basic science/R&D.Although overcoming these barriers will require several actors to come together – including innovators, scientists and investors – governments hold significant responsibility for setting the ambition and driving the direction of change. Governments also have a role to play in providing funding, infrastructure and innovative regulation.
- Governments should act now to save paying the price later.
Food systems urgently need reform in the face of climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity and deteriorating public health. As this paper sets out, the benefits of scaling up food technologies are clear.Transformative technologies in our energy system have been available for years, yet large parts of the world are still reliant on coal. We have been far too slow to deploy clean energy technologies. We can’t afford to make the same mistake with our food systems. It’s not a question of if, but when; at some point trends will force change. Nations with foresight should support the development of the markets of the future.
Key questions to address:
As part of this analysis we have identified five sets of questions that provide a starting point for governments that want to grasp the opportunity provided by food technologies. We welcome engagement from all actors interested in helping to address these questions.
- How do we make the unit economics of food technologies work not just in California or the UAE – but globally?
- What is the role for government versus the private sector to drive food tech to scale?
- How can we help farmers adopt these technologies, and make technologies more attractive to retailers and consumers?
- How might employment be affected? How can we make sure we create more winners than losers?
- Which technologies should be prioritised? Can and should multiple technologies work simultaneously, or will some compete with others?
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change is a Platinum Partner for the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit and Karen Hooper, Policy Lead Science and Innovation Unit, will chair the panel ‘Alternative Proteins: Paving the Way for Novel Food Approvals & Future Growth’ on day 1 of the summit – November 16, 2021.