Geoffrey Hawtin

What will food systems, agriculture and the environment look like in 2050? Given current trends, there is a range of highly contrasting outcomes
In one scenario, these bedrocks of society will have continued down their current path and faced significantly greater challenges than they do today.

But 30 years from now, we don’t believe that a global population of almost 10 billion people will be tied to today’s predominant farming practices, food business models, and dietary lifestyles. Things will have changed radically, and for the better.

Through a combination of existential necessity and human ingenuity – embodied by scientists and put into action by individuals, communities, nations, and businesses – food systems a generation from now will guarantee global food and nutritional security. Food systems will be fundamental components of healthy lifestyles, healthy economies, and a healthy planet.

In 2050, agriculture – the place where food systems begin – will no longer be on the wrong side of the digital divide. The sector will be as hyper-connected, efficient, and intelligent as our smog-free cities and our zero-carbon energy networks.

In 30 years, farming practices, food business models and lifestyles will have changed for the better.

Just-on-time efficiencies that define modern, globalized industries will be commonplace on family farms. Yes, family farms will still exist, but profitable, sustainable, and inclusive community agricultural systems will have relegated the term “subsistence agriculture” to the dustbin of history.

Agriculture, today grouped with land use and deforestation which emits 25 percent of global greenhouse gases, will no longer be a driver of climate change. It will be a key component of global efforts to drawdown atmospheric carbon.

That same need to decarbonize human activity will extend to food systems. This transformation will be driven by local and global markets that demand high-quality, safe, nutritious, and environmentally friendly food, and lead to a significant reduction in the amount of food that goes to waste – which today is estimated to be 30 percent of all food produced.

This vision may sound optimistic. But given what an alternative future looks like – for our diets, our environment, our economies, and our hard-won gains in food security – it’s the only vision we can afford to have.

Attaining it will not be easy but there is a reason we’re firmly headed toward this future. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Bioversity International, and their hundreds of partners around the globe are already working toward the challenges ahead, as a glimpse at 2018’s highlights shows us.

Transformation requires an increase in sustainable intensification of farming, which will make agricultural landscapes more productive and less of a burden on the planet – and eliminate the need to clear forests for agricultural land. 

In the coming decades, many of climate change’s effects will have already taken hold across breadbaskets everywhere, making the food-production challenge even more urgent. The good news is that rapid action on climate will reduce the extent of these impacts, and mitigation strategies being developed by CIAT and partners are already having positive results.

Ruben Echeverría

Climate-proofing farms against drought, flood and higher temperatures is one of CIAT’s research priorities, and our scientists and partners have set the stage for rolling out climate-smart agriculture strategies in dozens of countries across the globe. We’re also working on de-risking agriculture to promote the investment needed in the sector.

Changes to business-as-usual practices on farms are a key part of transformation, and youth and women are leading the way – both as drivers of change in the field and on the research front at CIAT and Bioversity International, which will be allied CGIAR research centers next year.

Nutrition and food systems will need to undergo a radical transformation in the coming decades if we are to both increase production and address the multiple, often simultaneous burdens of chronic malnutrition and obesity 

Agriculture will be a key to drawing down atmospheric carbon.

Much of this will be made possible by tapping the power of big data and bringing technology into the field, whether through apps that give stronger decision-making power to farmers or the various tools our scientists use to harness space technology to improve understanding of land use at the community level. 

In the spirit of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #17 –Partnerships for the Goals – CIAT’s Alliance with Bioversity International will help us achieve this optimistic vision for the future.

As a bigger, stronger organization, the Alliance will help us build upon our shared mission to deliver research-based solutions that harness agricultural biodiversity and sustainably transform food systems to improve people’s lives.

Geoffrey Hawtin
Board Chair

Ruben Echeverría
Director General, CIAT

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