Editor's Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.
Our world is at a crossroads. Three issues – employment, migration, and health – are set to shape the next ten years of the global economy. These are not future themes or issues where inaction is even possible, but current crises affecting people around the world, especially in the global south. To address each one of them we will need new solutions, enabled by technology. For each of these three meta-issues, agriculture is at the center. And for US agriculture and agtech companies, there should be big benefits.
The need for jobs may be the single biggest issue we face around the world — “the climate change that can’t be denied”, according to Jonathan Zuck of the Innovators Network. It is a core issue for every country and immensely acute for fast growing developing nations. Mechanization and machine learning are set to make old skills obsolete, while population is rising, with more people coming into – and staying in – the global workforce. Between 10-12m people join the African labor force every year, but the continent only creates 3.7 million jobs according to the African Development Bank. Improving the viability of small-scale agriculture, the world most popular job, is crucial to our global economic success.
Hunger is a primary cause of migration around the world, and though trends are improving in major countries like China and India, nearly 795 million people are still chronically undernourished globally according to the UN FAO. Concerns about climate change and extreme weather add to long-term trends of migration from farms to cities, which have led to some real social instability. There are over 244 million migrants worldwide, many of them fleeing hunger in countries from Somalia, to Yemen, to Nigeria, and Haiti.
Despite increases in access to healthcare and progress on child mortality and HIV/AIDS under the Millennium Development Goals, healthcare in most developing countries remains uneven at best. Primary care will need to be the cornerstone of large-scale care, and improved nutrition could be the best possible investment in health. Better nutrition can create resiliency in the face of pandemics and disease, especially for children. Improved nutrition can help address the spike in “developed diseases” like diabetes and heart disease, which are now sweeping regions like West Africa.
To address these three key issues, on a large scale, it is clear we need new, tech-enabled approaches to support agricultural employment, decrease food insecurity, and expand access to nutritious food and healthcare services. We can get there, but there’s no time to waste as the global population rises up towards 9 billion people and beyond.
The first step is to dramatically improve logistics and make smallholder agriculture a better, more productive, business. This means improving the amount and quality of food that gets to markets. Some 30% of all food produced globally is lost or wasted according to FAO. Food is lost, rots or is eaten by pests, while waiting for transport, and much is never picked up at all. An estimated $150 billion in value each year is lost in the global south. Farmers and transporters need to capture more value from their work.
At the same time, we need to make small-scale agriculture a more attractive career. The average age of farmers around the world is rising toward 60 in countries as diverse as Uganda, Nigeria, and Colombia. A new generation of producers will need to pick up agriculture and this could help slow migration from rural to urban and from developing to developed countries. We need to put new tools at their disposal – from improved land titling and transfer, to more agricultural extension information and data, to solutions to dramatically improve supply chain, like AMGlobal’s own Agromovil solution, which creates a platform combining mobile banking, microinsurance, and on-demand transport to help connect farmers, transporters, and markets.
For US business, emerging economies hold great promise. If we can solve the three major meta-issues, the potential benefits for the US will only increase exponentially. International philanthropic giants like the Rockefeller Foundation are investing tens of millions to raise yield, which should mean growth for seed, fertilizer, and other input related companies. Rising populations – and growing incomes – across the developing world mean opportunities for US-based producers of grains and protein, as diets change in many emerging economies. The majority of future consumers for US agriculture are expected to come from the global south. Finally, improved distribution and use of US-designed agricultural technology will create data that can be used to avoid famine, improve production, and help understand the tastes of smallholder farmers – as consumers. After all, Cargill, but also Procter and Gamble, want to reach the 1.5 billion people who live in smallholder farm communities.
We live in a time of changing paradigms and great opportunity. We can improve production, food security, and the viability of small farmer communities – along with opportunities for US business – with a new mindset and new technology. Some of our world’s most pressing issues are at root agriculture problems, and working together with a focus on agriculture in emerging markets, we can solve them and prosper.
About the Author:
Andrew Mack is Principal of AMGlobal Consulting (www.amglobal.com), a 13 year old Washington, DC-based consulting firm helping companies do more – and more sustainable – business in Emerging Markets.
A former World Bank official and banker with experience in over 80 countries and a special focus on Africa and Latin America, Mack has worked with clients including Fortune 100 corporations – like Chevron, AT&T, and Toyota – development banks, and major NGOs.
Mack is internationally recognized for his work on the connections between technology and development, and is a frequent speaker on technology policy, public private partnerships, corporate social responsibility, and economic development. Mack is Chair of ICANN’s Business Constituency, which represents leading technology firms in internet policy development, and founder of Agromovil (www.agromovil.co), an agtech social enterprise combining mobile banking, microinsurance and on-demand transport to get crops to market more efficiently in developing countries.