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The challenges facing the global food and agriculture industry are as personal as they are universal. No matter where you live, the food on tonight’s dinner table has most likely been touched by a mix of science, farming, and processing practices spanning continents. For this publication, we have chosen to address three global challenges we see as inspiring the most convergent solutions—those that must be met with a combination of technology, regulation, and societal change.
- Satisfying the world’s increasing appetite for animal protein
- Addressing the impact of climate change on the globe’s staple crops
- Creating a less wasteful and more efficient global food supply chain
The solutions to these challenges do not exist in isolation. Many are, in fact, codependent (lab-grown meat has the potential to be significantly less wasteful than raising poultry or cattle traditionally, for example). These articles touch upon such codependence, but are intended to explore individual ecosystems of technology and people.
The intimacy of food cannot be ignored—it binds cultural identity and individual experience. Any changes to the food system, especially those that manipulate our actual food, will have to confront millennia of tradition. How will humanity reconcile the need for food and agriculture innovation with its evolutionarily and culturally ingrained tastes and behaviors?
The incentive for such innovation is not purely existential—there is tremendous economic opportunity for those bold enough to attempt to transform humanity’s relationship with food and agriculture. Food and agribusiness is a $5 trillion global industry, yet food systems-focused startups have only attracted $14 billion in investment globally in 1,000 startups since 2010.(1) One can contrast this with the global healthcare industry, which is worth a similarly massive $7 trillion, and its 145 billion in investment in 18,000 startups since 2010, to understand the market potential of a true food and agriculture technology revolution.
Such a comparison is made even more compelling by considering that the two sectors benefit from many of the same fundamental breakthroughs in biology, chemistry, and computing (CRISPR can edit the DNA of a tomato or a liver cell, silk proteins can ensure the freshness of a head of lettuce or blood sample, algorithms can optimize harvests and discover new molecules, etc…).
Strain on our food and agriculture systems is real. And it will only become more conspicuous as the globe’s population approaches the 10 billion mark sometime around 2050. Technology, particularly Tough Tech with its emphasis on convergent, breakthrough sciences, will play a major role in satisfying an insatiable global appetite for accessible, high-quality, and culturally relevant food.