The future of food systems

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The future of food systems

How to feed 8.5bn people sustainably & nutritiously in 2030?

The agriculture sector is facing multiple challenges when it comes to feeding the world’s population sustainably and nutritiously. How to prepare your business for an uncertain future? A collaborative study by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte provides four scenarios for 2030, and identifies opportunities and threats for strategic decisions.

Annelieke de Wit & Patrick Schunck

The growing challenges in agri and food

The world population is expected to reach 8.5 billion in 2030. However, at the current moment already almost half of the world population does not eat a properly nutritious diet. At the same time, there are regions where up to 40% of the food is lost or wasted. Combined with the increasing volatility of weather events and food prices and increasingly ambitious climate goals, we can conclude that the sector is facing formidable, multi-faceted challenges.

Major uncertainties and future scenarios

“Meeting [these challenges] will likely require a systems-level transformation rather than just incremental improvements,” said Shay Eliaz, Principal at Monitor Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. The two most critical uncertainties driving the change of the global food system in the next fifteen years are demand shift and market connectivity. Demand shift encompasses consumers’ preferences concerning the environmental impact and health implications of their food. Market connectivity pertains to the openness of trade, trust in and resilience of commodity markets, and inclusivity of technological innovations.

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These uncertainties lead to the following scenarios for the food industry in 2030:

  • Survival of the Richest: With resource-intensive consumption and disconnected markets, this is a world where the global economy is sluggish, and the division between “haves” and “have-nots” is strong.
  • Unchecked Consumption: In a word of resource-intensive consumption and strong market connectivity, both the global GDP growth and environmental cost are high.
  • Local Is the New Global: With fragmented local markets and resource-efficient consumption, resource-rich countries focus on local foods, whereas import-dependent regions become hunger hotspots.
  • Open-source Sustainability: A future linking highly-connected markets and resource-efficient consumption has increased international cooperation and innovation, but may leave some behind.

The scenarios are visualised along the axes of the two uncertainties in the figure below.

The four scenarios for the global food system in 2030
The four scenarios for the global food system in 2030 (click for a larger view)

Drive progress through innovation

Early signals pointing to each scenario are visible today, making each of them a plausible future prospect. Food systems are not ready to deliver healthy and sustainably produced nourishment to the entire global population now, and will be even less prepared to do so in the future. There is a window of opportunity for business and government to drive progress through innovation and smart policies. This window is highly dependent on the further development of the demand shift and market connectivity. Demand shift is influenced by population growth and economic welfare, while market connectivity is dependent on welfare as well as technological innovations and political developments worldwide.

How to proceed?

The need for informed, measured, long-term thinking and action has never been greater. The report provides insight in the opportunities and threats of every scenario, and a foundation to make informed strategic decisions right now to prepare for the future.

Do you want to know more about strategizing for the future in the agri and food industry? Please contact Annelieke de Wit at +31 (0)88 2885408.

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