By Kobad Bhavnagri, Global Head of Strategy
The global agriculture system is on the verge of a new revolution. Sixty years after the ‘Green Revolution’ brought abundant food supplies to the world, the way food and fiber is produced on the farm is about to undergo another era of sweeping change.
The transformation ahead will shape the future of billions of jobs, trillions of dollars of output and the world’s oldest industry. What’s at stake is whether we have a livable planet, or not.
The planet-sized impact of food
The global agriculture system employs nearly a quarter of the world’s population, generates more than $8 trillion in annual revenue, and occupies and alters over 50% of habitable land on Earth.
That last point reveals the enormous impact that agriculture has on the planet. In fact, of all human industries and activities, agriculture is the single largest driver of threats to the stability of the Earth system due to the number of ‘planetary boundaries’ it breaks. It even trumps our fossil-fuel-dependent energy system as the greatest risk to our children inheriting a livable planet.
The nine planetary boundaries are essentially the physical, chemical and biological processes that have kept Earth in a Goldilocks state for the last 12,000 years. According to scientists’ best estimate, we are currently breaching six of these nine boundaries and agriculture is a major reason for at least four of these transgressions. It is propelling 80% of biodiversity loss, 80% of land-system change and 70% of freshwater withdrawals – among other things.
Four chief culprits
There are four chief culprits behind the outsized impact of the agricultural system – the overuse of land, water, fertilizers and pesticides.
The excessive deployment of these resources is driving the biodiversity crisis, which rivals the climate crisis in both severity and risk. The agricultural sector is also responsible for as much as 34% of global greenhouse gas emissions when following the trail from farm to fork to landfill.
The grand challenge for agriculture is to transform to meet three key goals. It must halt and reverse its contribution to the biodiversity crisis by 2030, as laid out in the …
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