by Dr. Nitza Kardish
Nitza Kardish, Ph.D. is the CEO of Trendlines Agtech, a venture investment firm investing in early stage agricultural technology companies in Israel.
As we commemorate World Food Month in October, there is much to be both sober and hopeful about. About 870 million people are chronically undernourished worldwide. Moreover, according to UN figures, the world population is predicted to grow from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 8.3 billion in 2030 and to 9.1 billion in 2050. By 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50% and 70% by 2050.
But while these 2030 statistics are forecasting the future, the crisis we face is one for the present, and current agriculture production is being influenced on a grand scale.
Climate change threatens to flood large areas of cultivated land and, as we are witnessing now in the US and China, severe droughts are likely to continue to be the cause of crop failure and lower yields. Those of us in the industry are well aware of these challenges, and it's why so many are focusing our efforts on innovating technologies to address them.
For those outside the industry, phrases like "crop protection" and "increase in yields" mean little to nothing.
What is truly at issue here? For the average Joe?
Global food supply.
In addition to the obvious impacts of a decrease in global food supply, such as world hunger, issues around food scarcity and rising food prices may be a catalyst for revolutions as food shortages and hunger are recipes for unrest.
Just a few short years ago the world witnessed riots caused by rising food prices in Haiti, the Philippines and Bangladesh. Morocco, Egypt and Jordan also saw riots connected to food and when fruit-stand worker Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire as an act of protest in Tunisia in 2011 and riots broke out, the high price of food was a major factor in the ensuing demonstrations. The so-called Arab Spring had begun.
When people are hungry instability follows and the world is on its way to another food crisis.
This crisis has much of its roots in the United States-the world's bread basket. America's wheat, corn, and soy crops were devastated by last summer's drought and scorching temperatures. Grain prices rapidly increased as stockpiles decreased. There will likely be global consequences and few countries will be left unscathed, including those in the West.
And indeed, it is not just in the developing world that the demand for food is increasing. In the developed world, demand for dairy, eggs and meat continues to grow, and while food production in the West has grown, consumption of grains for feedstock, biofuels and food for the general population has grown even faster.
Technology is the key to ensuring that there is enough food for everyone and much of the world's cutting edge agritechnology is happening in Israel.
Israel has been coping for decades with conditions that many regions in the world will soon find themselves facing-fast growing populations, harsh climate, arid land, lack of water and the need for effective crop protection that would not damage soil and groundwater.
With little agricultural tradition to fall back on, Israelis have been free to innovate, and the current ecosystem of Israeli agriculture innovations is diverse. There are more than 200 research groups focused on agriculture. Some R&D is government supported, some private. Some businesses are formed by farmers who invented something unique to help them cope with problems they face. Synergies with Israel's advanced high-technology sector help it achieve creative agricultural solutions.
In Trendlines Agtech, the investment company/incubator that I head, there are a number of innovations that can increase food yields around the globe. One focuses on developing next-generation robotic milking systems for cost-effective, high-performance automatic milking in medium and large dairy farms, another increases yields in extensive fish ponds by hundreds of percentage points.
At a time when food security is an increasingly dire concern, Israeli agritechnology experts, working together with international business leaders and governments can help alleviate a global crisis, helping to create a safer and healthier world.