The global food shortage issue may sit closer to your home than you think.
According to UN statistics, global food production decreases by 2% every ten years due to climate change. By 2050, the world will add another two billion people, meaning huge population pressure will make the food shortage even worse.
The war in the Ukraine has also put the food crisis front and center once more. Ukraine and Russia together account for more than 30% of global wheat, corn, and oat grain exports. The prices for each have risen steeply since the conflict began, and the fact that these crops are the main source of feed for the livestock industry has caused meat prices to increase in tandem.
These costs are driving many developing countries to the brink of famine.
The above issues are compounded further by other external factors like the global supply chain crisis, rising energy prices, and labor shortages.
Amidst all this, there is still some good news. Advances in agricultural technologies or “AgTech” is enhancing the food production process as well as decreasing the rate at which shortages have been occurring.
AI for precision farming
Compared to the huge scale, somewhat lumbering industry of the past, the new agricultural sector is putting more emphasis on “precision farming”.
Precision farming might take the form of farmers using AI image recognition technology to identify the stage of ripeness for fruit or adopting IoT-enabled remote monitoring of the state of soil and crops. Farmers can then analyze the data on the backend to determine how to fertilize and irrigate their crops more effectively.
Cherubic Ventures portfolio startup Iron Ox is applying robotics as a means to automate the farming process and resolve the labor shortage problem. Where most farm automation is focused on repetitive tasks like tilling and seeding, Iron Ox develops AI-automated greenhouses in which robots move plants around and use image recognition and sensors to provide the crops with the precise amount of water and nutrients needed. According to the company, the hydroponics used by these greenhouses – which are located near urban areas and grow produce such as lettuce, basil, and others – can save up to 90% of water.
Advanced weather prediction for better planning
Climate change is of course having a major impact on agriculture, but more advanced weather prediction models are helping. Weather organizations now have the capability to make predictions for specific areas rather than just wide regions, which allows farmers in those smaller areas to more effectively plan their work and harvest timings as well as conserve more water.
Reducing food waste through supply chain optimization
Besides increasing food production, another critical component to addressing the food shortage is decreasing food waste. According to estimates from the UN World Food Programme, approximately a third of the world’s food supply is lost or wasted every year, primarily due to inadequate storage during transport or unsold food being thrown away. The current supply chain crisis has only added to the problem.
One way we as consumers can help is to buy seasonal as well as locally-sourced food products, which allows us to avoid relying on a far and needless shipping process. Startups, however, are taking it a big step further.
We are now seeing new services such as apps that allow restaurant supply orders to be directly distributed to farmers and packaging facilities, which cuts out the middleman and shortens the distance from farm to table. Other startups are developing platforms to help sell leftover food at a cheaper price to get food into the hands of those who need it.
Increased prices due to food shortages will only serve to create more societal and political turmoil. Therefore, every country needs to have strategies for the short and long terms to ensure that economic growth and the security of food production go hand in hand.
Besides, as the basic foundation for a functioning society, the agriculture industry has a lot of pain points to address both in terms of technology adoption and logistics. It’s only through technology that the food crisis can be gradually alleviated. This presents a golden opportunity for startups to develop technological solutions to address food shortages and disrupted supply chains.