Players in the agribusiness have to grow both in size, land as well as in productivity in order to be able to deal with the challenges of the future.
That was one of the main messages of Prof Louise Fresco, president of the Executive Board at Wageningen University, at the 2015 Cargill Animal Nutrition Seminar held recently in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
Addressing an audience of 250 delegates, representing 35 countries, she touched on the well-known projection that by 2050 there will be another 2 billion added to the global population. Hence, twice as much food will be needed and demand for protein will double. And there will be further demands on food producers such as food safety and environmental issues.
Global population's food needs
She said that meeting the global population's food needs was even greater. "There's a billion who still haven't got enough food, another billion lacking sufficient vitamins and minerals and 1.6 billion with obesity problems – that's 3.6 billion from a current 7 billion people globally with another 2 billion in 35 years, which is just a generation and a half away.
Producers are faced with meeting this increased demand for food both economically and efficiently. And there are added demands. "The food production industry faces increasing food safety, animal welfare and environmental pressures from consumers," said Fresco. "The whole dynamics of food production has changed."
Great potential to increase efficiency
Fresco said she believes though that producers have great potential to increase efficiency. Although for some it will be a quantum leap, she named two key areas that would play a big part in achieving this; information technology and labour efficiency.
"In many countries too many are leaving the land for the city – farming isn't respected. It's a real worry. We need to create a new generation of farmers by enticing young people to stay on the land and produce food."
Technology will help improve labour productivity, through new mechanisation and particularly important will be hand-held devices that can gather data and provide information. "This 'big data' will improve efficiency right through the food chain," she added.
Producers may need to grow
Also, albeit potentially controversial, Fresco believes that small isn't beautiful in many cases. "Producers may need to 'grow' – to increase herd size and land – to be more efficient."
She stressed the need to optimise productivity. "There's not one solution here - people need to understand that," adding that there is still potential in single celled organisms, algae and even insects in the animal food chain.
Meeting global demand for food
Hopeful that this global demand for food can be met based on progress in the past 50 years in terms of producing more calories globally and reducing the world's starving population, Fresco said she encourages a move to reduce food losses. The food chain currently wastes 30% to 40% that could be recycled back into animal production.
"The real challenge is to achieve optimal solutions to food production at local levels," she concluded, adding that every citizen has a right to safe food, whether they are from poor or rich countries.