Feeding the world sustainably

Green technologies, biotech advances, and artificial intelligence could help tame agricultural emissions and waste, while safeguarding ocean resources.

A burst of technology in the 1960s—the Green Revolution—raised agricultural output significantly across developing economies. Since then, rising incomes have boosted protein consumption worldwide, and elevated new challenges: greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture are increasing (more than a fifth of all emissions worldwide), while a host of practices, from waste to overfishing, threaten the sustainability of food supplies. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought these concerns to the fore: the disease has disrupted supply chains and demand, perversely increasing the amount of food waste in farms and fields while threatening food security for many.

As agriculture gradually regains its footing, participants and stakeholders should be casting an eye ahead, to safeguarding food supplies against the potentially greater and more disruptive effects of climate change. Once again, innovation and advanced technologies could make a powerful contribution to secure and sustainable food production. For example, digital and biotechnologies could improve the health of ruminant livestock, requiring fewer methane-producing animals to meet the world’s protein needs. Genetic technologies could play a supporting role by enabling the breeding of animals that produce less methane. Meanwhile, AI and sensors could help food processors sort better and slash waste, and other smart technologies could identify inedible by-products for reprocessing. Data and advanced analytics also could help authorities better monitor and manage the seas to limit overfishing—while enabling boat crews to target and find fish with less effort and waste. Agriculture is a traditional industry, but its quest for tech-enabled sustainability offers valuable lessons.