3 ways agriculture and food dominated the World Economic Forum 2023 program

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The recent World Economic Forum placed a significant focus on the agribusiness industry. We explore the most noteworthy interventions on the three main topics connected to agriculture. 

Food system under threat dominates Davos' agenda

Since the release of the program for the 2023 World Economic Forum in Davos, it was evident that this year's event would place significant emphasis on topics such as food security, agriculture, and international collaborationAs stated in the initial overview of the summit, one of the main objectives was to address the issue of "Food Crises in the context of a New System for Energy, Climate and Nature."

The official WEF house-organ has stated that food security and our food systems are at risk due to a combination of causes, and this explains the relevance of the topics in the agenda.

On the one hand, during 2022, conflicts, disruptions in global trade and supply chains, as well as the inflation crisis increased public concern about food security. On the other hand, the pressing issues of climate change, overpopulation, and extreme weather conditions continue to highlight the need for action.

When discussing how to transition towards resilient food systems, panelists identified soil health, collaboration and technology as the formula that can bring about real change in agriculture and build a food system that can support our future population. 

1 - Soil health: a pre-condition to feed 10 billion

Soil degradation is a serious concern, as we are facing a paradoxical situation: we need to increase agricultural yield and, at the same time, reduce pressure on our farm land. The Norwegian Minister for International Development, Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, during her intervention on January 17th stated that "the global food production system is broken." In some parts of the world, like Sub-Saharan Africa, Tvinnereim identified “vast potential to step up production, but soil degradation is horrific.” Hence the importance of creating a “huge international task to map soil health.”

The resilience of crops and the reduction of impact on soil is also identified by members of the private sector – as Hanneke Faber, the President of Unilever's Nutrition division –  as a means to improve food security: “We need to support farmers to do what we now call regenerative agriculture; it’s not charity, it’s not idealism: it’s about driving resilience.” To preserve the "common heritage" of soil, we need to adopt a holistic view in agricultural practices that promote complexity and biodiversity, as highlighted in the panel discussion "Soil as a Strategic Tool for Regenerative Agriculture".

There was also a general consensus on the two tools needed to restore the Earth's soils: increased collaboration among all stakeholders and being open to the use of technology.

2 - A multi-stakeholder approach as part of the solution

Producing enough food to feed the world while finding an equilibrium between our production needs and preserving soil health urgently needs to become a share priority.  Our founding partner, Yara International, hosted a number of panels focused on soil health and regenerative agriculture, bringing together business, government representatives and NGOs.
From the politics side, ministers called for collaboration especially in the field of technology. Raj Kumar Singh, India's Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, emphasized the role of leading nations in transforming food and agricultural systems through significant investments in development, providing know-how and agricultural assets as modern irrigation systems and fertilizers. Also on the panel was Tran Hong Ha, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Vietnam, who stressed the need for collaboration between developed and developing countries: “Farmers in developing countries do not usually have sufficient financial resources and need partnerships among all stakeholders - producers, consumers and others along the value chain - in order to contribute knowledge and share profits.”

The access to existent technologies capable of regenerating soil and boosting productivity was also the core message of Gilberto Tomazoni’s – global CEO of JBS  intervention, during the roundtable named “Land Matters”. Collaboration should not only be viewed as a way to align policies, but as a multi-stakeholder approach that engages and empowers the private sector.

3 - Feeding optimism through technology

At the 2023 World Economic Forum, technology took center stage, featuring prominently throughout the event. Advancements in AgTech give us reason to be optimistic about future opportunities to reach a more comprehensive understanding of soil. An example is satellite mapping, which is rapidly advancing and becoming more affordable: Rodger Voorhies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced its cost has decreased by 97% in recent years.

Improving and monitoring soil quality can lead to remarkable results in both its regeneration and output. According to Mónica Andrés Enríquez, Yara's Executive Vice President for Europe, the combination of precision farming, digital tools, and expert knowledge can increase the efficiency of nutrient use in the soil by up to 20%.

Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore used the World Economic Forum as an opportunity to showcase Climate TRACE, highlighting how the comprehensive view of ecosystem impacts is becoming increasingly attainable in agriculture and other sectors. The capability to convert large amounts of data into action is a crucial aspect in shaping strategies for preventing environmental disasters, developing crisis management plans and assisting farmers in their operations. This was highlighted by Angela Oduor Lungati, the Executive Director of Ushahidi Inc., a non-profit organization that utilizes user-generated data for African soil mapping.

An issue beyond the summit

As every year, the WEF23 provided crucial opportunities to align perspectives, develop shared strategies, and facilitate open communication, which is essential for achieving progress and goals.

It was encouraging to see soil health gain central stage during many panels with experts linking it to food security, climate challenges and global health. Soil’s importance has often been overlooked or taken for granted as infinite resource, a bottomless source of richness and nutrience. As pressures on the food system grow, it is increasingly clear that the health of our soils is of paramount importance if we wish to have a real chance at building a more productive and healthy food system that doesn’t further exacerbate the climate crisis.

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