Agricultural firms urged to address global food challenges

08 January 2019 3 min. read

Almost a third of the world’s most important crops are grown in areas where water resourcing is stressed. As the world looks set to endure rising temperatures in line with the trends of the last decade, the increasingly regularity of droughts seems almost inevitable, and agricultural companies must therefore take a more holistic approach to sustainability, a new report has suggested.

Agriculture is the practice of cultivating land and breeding of animals and plants to provide food, fiber, medicinal plants and other products to sustain and enhance life. It is the basis of society, and even in the advanced technological era at hand, the world remains dependent on the work of farmers to survive. Even though the Agtech start-up market, like much of the start-up scene, has seen explosive growth in investments in recent years, with total investments increasing more than eightfold since 2010, many of agricultural practices remain antiquated, however, and will need to change quickly to adapt to a challenging future.

The global population is set to increase by over two billion in the next 30 years, even while malnourishment remains endemic, soil quality is in decline and water and other critical resources are becoming scarcer. According to a new report from the Boston Consulting Group, however, it is not all doom and gloom, as agricultural companies have a great opportunity to integrate sustainability into their core business practices in order to meet the growing global demand for high quality food, and do so sustainably.

Agriculture is straining water resources

The new paper details how some leading agricultural companies are rising up to the challenge of sustainable farming. Most of these companies, however, are still lagging behind and have yet to adopt more sustainable practices.

BCG’s researchers found that agriculture continues to strain water resources as a prime example of this. 28% of global cropland is in water-stressed regions, including 43% of all wheat, 38% of all fruits, 35% of maize and 29% of rice. Essentially then, a third of some of the most important ingredients for human survival are produced in areas where a sustained drought, made my likely by global warming, could severely impact their potential yield.

Agricultural companies sustainability targets focus on operations

The report cites a short-sightedness on the part of companies’ sustainability policies as key to this failure. BCG found that agricultural firms often perceive the internal impact of sustainability drives as being the be-all and end-all, as they often have a large visible impact in this regard. However, most sustainability drives saw minimal impacts felt outside the company, leaving agricultural production exposed to a number of external factors which have gone unaddressed.

As the importance of sustainability continues to grow, the researchers concluded by pointing to a number of methods which companies can adopt to change course now. Companies can prepare for sustainable agriculture by integrate sustainability into their core business activities, as well as reaching out to farmers in various regions to understand their unique concerns. They should also look holistically at the industry as a whole, and consider their impact on regulators, consumers, food companies, farmers and global economic and social development.