Director of the Ullman School of Design, America’s oldest university-based design school.
Climate change, degradation of our ecosystem and Covid-19 have reminded us that we urgently need to build recovery plans for developing new food security systems and decentralized food supply chains. To further complicate things, the global population is projected to rise to 9.8 billion people by 2050. The UN reports that according to this scenario, we would need the natural resources of almost three planets in order to sustain our current way of life. This means that we will not only have to change our lifestyles, but we will also need to do more and better, with significantly less.
Fortunately, we are currently witnessing the rise of one of the most important industries of the future: sustainable agriculture technologies, or AgTech as this sector is commonly called. This emerging industry sector is focused on reinventing farming from being a labor-intensive profession to a new kind of tech career. By bringing big data management technologies, smart sensors, artificial intelligence systems and predictive analytics into farming, the AgTech sector can make agriculture far more efficient, precise and resilient in the face of environmental challenges and severe weather. And this is not the only benefit that this emerging sector can provide.
There are many issues with traditional farming that make this industry unsustainable and unreliable: an aging and shrinking workforce, poor harvesting practices, extensive use of water resources, large-scale land cultivation and long-distance food transportation practices. Each year, an estimated $1 trillion worth of food ends up rotting due to poor industry practices, and this doesn’t even factor in all the other associated expenses related to growing the food. All of these are problems that wait to be addressed and resolved, making this industry ripe for disruption. But one thing that this industry terribly needs is a new image capable of changing the perception of what farming is and what farmers do.
What most people still don’t realize is that “smart” farming (the kind that AgTech is capable of creating) is very different from the traditional concept of farming. While for some the image of the farmer is a person carrying a pitchfork and riding a tractor, the new generation of farmers can run their farms from an app on their phone while flying a drone and utilizing a wide range of sensors and machine-learning capabilities. Also, agriculture nowadays is no longer constrained only to large fields of crops in the countryside. In recent times, and with the help of new technological advances, we can grow food indoors (hydroponically) in urban environments, and even on board the International Space Station.
MORE FOR YOU
Such advances in farming mean that the AgTech sector can help combat inner-city food deserts by enabling conditions for new food growing practices to flourish under previously impossible conditions. New technologies, combined with a new network of rooftop farms, indoor and vertical farming facilities, create a suite of new opportunities for both local communities and businesses. In fact, if we think creatively, we can even repurpose warehouses, abandoned shopping malls and multistory parking garages and convert them into urban micro-farms. By making our cities farm-ready, we will not only create “greener” cities, but also a new farming ecosystem that can allow for fresh food to grow where the people live.
While most AgTech companies are still trying to sell their services to current farming conglomerates, I believe the future of this sector lies elsewhere. What almost no one seems to have realized yet is that this is one of the very few industry sectors that are actually aligned with many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In fact, at least nine out of the 17 SDGs can benefit from further development of AgTech. This is important to be noted because two highly influential market demographics today, millennials and Gen Z, are early adopters who actively seek to support or invest in companies that incorporate such values in their business models.
For millennials, sustainable farmers are already seen as the “new heroes” of food production, and Gen Z shares much of the same worldview as them, if not more. Furthermore, as “digital natives,” members of these generations can play a critical role in creating the future AgTech workforce. In fact, one study on millennials in the workplace highlights that 94% of them would like to use their skills to benefit a cause — and if their time commitment prohibits them from that, they will be inclined to provide financial support instead. AgTech companies that will engage these demographics now will win in the long-term.
Opportunities and Challenges
As far as long-term investment goes, this is perhaps the most stable and predictable market to invest in. As the world population continues to grow, so will the need for food. The industry, however, will need to make an effort to communicate its values and environmental benefits to both millennials and Gen Z members and invite them to embark on a career in the AgTech sector. Doing so calls for radically changing the image of the industry and the concept of what it means to be a farmer. Nevertheless, this is key to resolving one of the largest concerns of agriculture today: the critical skills shortage.
The World Needs AgTech
As the World Economic Forum points out, unlike other tech disruptions that we have seen in the past, the focus of this industry disruption is not on consumer convenience or entertainment, but on something far more important: our collective survival. So, next time you are thinking about which industry you should invest in or which industry sector you should support, please consider AgTech. Our future will depend on it.
Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?
Go to Source
Author: Gjoko Muratovski, Forbes Councils Member