COP27 will dedicate an entire day to adaptation and agriculture this year.
As agriculture and food systems are responsible for 1/3 of all greenhouse gas emissions, they need to contribute to the Paris Agreement to help fight the climate crisis.
What are the emerging issues in Agriculture today?
We monitored and mapped current issues today to find the top emerging issues in this sector.
2022 has been the year for agricultural innovation. Across the board, major players have been making great strides towards digitalisation, automation and regenerative practices. After all, it’s the nature of our industries to strive for greater technological advancement to challenge our limits and disrupt our markets. But, the transformation we are seeing goes beyond beating the competition. There is a fundamental need to face emerging issues in agriculture that threaten our food systems. Problems that demand greater resilience from our crops, larger yields, superior management capabilities among many operational challenges upstream and downstream producers face.
1. Food Security
News in agriculture & food systems in 2022 has been largely marked by a globally deteriorating food security situation.
- An unprecedented megadrought in America has seen farmland around the Colorado river becoming unproductive due to lack of moisture, and it doesn’t look like it will be a temporary issue.
- Extreme heat experienced in China weakened food production over the summer.
- Europe experienced the worst drought in hundreds of years.
- The war in Ukraine triggered a grain crisis.
- In East Africa, 90% of wheat imported comes from Russia and Ukraine with the ongoing situation putting 82 million people in need of food aid.
What does food security mean?
Food security as a concept originated in the mid-1970s. Originally focused on food supply problems, the concept was expanded over the years and defined in 2001 as “Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
2. Fertiliser Supply Disruptions
Natural Gas has been in short supply since Russia cut off gas supplied to Western Europe. Instrumental in the production of ammonia, large suppliers such as Yara and BASF had to scale-back production or cease operations entirely at some plant locations as output decreased by two thirds across Europe in response to the lack of supply.
As Russia accounted for 40% of global potash production and 20% global nitrogen production, global supply will continue to be constrained beyond 2022.
The trickle-down effect will result in many small hold farmers unable to boost crop yields without these key chemicals. The solution to such a large supply deficit still remains unclear but the United Nations are attempting to broker a deal with Russia that would see a resumption of ammonia exports.
Russia and Ukraine are key global exporters of grain, while Russia is also one of the largest exporters of fertilisers.
Prices have increased for all commodities both upstream and downstream in the process.
- Chemicals required for fertiliser production, such as ammonia, surged from $700 to $1,300 USD per tonne
- Food prices have seen inflation above 5% in almost all countries, according to the World Bank.
Action has been taken to help ease the growing cost with the United Nations pushing strongly for a reduction in fertiliser prices and the World Bank making $30 billion available for food systems development that targets climate-smart agricultural practices, market access and resilient agricultural production.
The USDA has also made efforts to quell the rising prices for fertilisers by providing $500 million USD in grants for local fertiliser companies to increase production and supply to local markets, bringing down the price. Without the capability to continue or increase crop yields there may be a potential shortage looming.
4. Climate Change
In May 2022, The World Meteorological Organisation announced there was a 50:50 chance that the annual global temperature would temporarily increase by 1.5°C. A massive shift in odds compared to only a 10% chance from 2015-2021. Were this to happen, food shortages would become a much more common occurrence as crop output could potentially decrease by more than 25%.
This worsening climate change adds pressure to food production, which already needs to increase by 70% by 2050 as a result of population growth.
But, at the same time increasing production volume here would increase Greenhouse Gas emissions more so than the 25-30% upstream and downstream processes in food systems already contribute to. An issue that requires careful consideration to overcome.
5. Farmable Land
Supermarket aisles that are never depleted, foodstuffs and amenities at our fingertips near constantly, no need to wait or concern for where the next meal is coming from. Such a thing is considered the norm these days in many parts of the world. But this abundance does not come without a cost as we might be depleting our stock of fertile farm-ready land at a rapid rate.
Every year, an area of arable land greater than the size of England is abandoned, meaning ever more rainforests or savannah need to be ploughed up to replace this loss. With this land degradation, The United Nations have calculated that arable land loss is 30 to 35 times higher than the historical rate, and that over 12 million hectares of land is lost each year to desertification, as the soil erodes, vegetation is lost and the ground turns to sand.
While restoration is possible, it can take 500 years for 2.5 cm of soil to form, compared to the measly few years it takes to destroy it. More sustainable practices may be required to guarantee an output that can safeguard our food concerns.