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10 Keys to a Resilient Global Food System

Words by Leon Kaye
Global Food System

It’s been clear that we need to rethink the global food system — and the months-long pandemic served to rip off that bandage as it exposed the growing risks of food insecurity worldwide.

How to arrive at a more sustainable yet productive global food system poses massive questions. Depending on who’s cited, it’s clear that over the next 30 years, we need to produce 50 percent more food, help 2 billion to 3 billion people avoid malnutrition, and cut many gigatons of carbon emissions to secure the global system while avoiding the worst threats linked to climate change.

So how can we reinvent the global food and agriculture sector to produce enough food that is sufficient, low-carbon, healthy and sustainable? According to new Morgan Stanley research, the math is possible if the following 10 sectors can ramp up quickly over the next several years. Some solutions include what environmentalists have touted for years — as in, investments in organic agriculture. Other industries, such as aquaculture and fertilizers, will make some of the most hardened sustainability advocates blanch. From the perspective of researchers at Morgan Stanley, the following are all necessary — and some may prove more remunerative to investors than others.

Agri-food testing

This term casts a wide net. It covers many functions, from food inspection to the standardization of labeling to supply chain technologies that can prevent food waste. Food safety scares over the past several years have led to more regulations, and as a result Morgan Stanley foresees a $50 billion-plus industry by 2030.

Animal health

Morgan Stanley only sees 4 percent growth in this sector over the next few years, largely due to the regulatory environment. Vaccines, antibiotics and feed additives are the reality as much of the world still has an appetite for meat. But as the European Union seeks to halve the amount of antimicrobials in farmed agriculture by 2030, this is among the smaller 10 keys Morgan Stanley sees as having an impact on the global food system.

Aquaculture

Get accustomed to more growth in this sector as fisheries worldwide become more depleted. Aquaculture is already providing the majority of fish consumed worldwide, and the industry touts itself as providing a low-fat, high-quality protein. Critics counter that its risks include more water pollution, global emissions and biodiversity loss. Regardless, Morgan Stanley anticipates global revenues of $300 billion within a decade.

Crop protection

Yes, that is a gentler way to describe chemicals that end in -cide: pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and so forth. The fact that they boost yields is tempting to farmers, but Morgan Stanley’s researchers see only modest growth over the next 10 years.

Fertilizers

See above (crop protection). Wall Street-based Morgan Stanley urges caution: Yes, there are risks, and regulations in regions such as the European Union have contributed to the curb in use. The use of phosphates is also projected for slow growth in the U.S. Green ammonia and bio-based fertilizers have long-term potential, but this is one of the smaller sectors in Morgan Stanley’s top-10 list.

Plant-based protein

This sector has come a long way in a decade, with companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods leading the charge. The same goes for dairy alternatives — and clearly there is coin in these sectors, as some of the world’s largest food companies have invested in, or acquired, fake meat or milk companies. Hence the market could be worth as much as $80 billion in 10 years.

Precision agriculture

Technologies that can optimize fertilizer application, improve irrigation efficiency, and identify and treat weather-stressed crops are by some estimates a $20 billion untapped market. The deployment of such data and technology can include the harnessing of drones, satellite data, sensors and other autonomous technologies.

An organic global food system?

One criticism of organic food is that there isn’t enough land for such a conversion. But tell that to the supermarkets that now carry it, the farmers markets that are still popular, and the farmers that reap the revenues. It’s a sector that could see 6 percent growth annually, says Morgan Stanley, reaching $570 billion by 2030.

Seed innovation

It’s really a next-gen way to say genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Once known as biotechnology and touted to save the world, the conversation has since shifted to a more dystopian tone. The reality, however, is that GMOs are already in our food supply. Morgan Stanley is projecting that innovations in seeds will be a $100 billion global business in the coming decade.

Vertical farming

Vertical farming is to the global food system what algae-based biofuels are to the renewables sector: lots of potential, but in the end, there is only so much space. Just as promises of algae-based aviation fuel have been hard to meet, we won’t see vertical farming provide much in the way of commodity crops like soy or corn. But for high-value foods like salad greens or berries, this sector could be a winner, so Morgan Stanley expects a $30 billion industry within a decade.

Image credit: PxHere

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye