How to invest in a sustainable food future

The call to feed 9 billion people by 2050 is a common refrain among food industry leaders, held up as the ultimate, if elusive, goal of production and sustainability. Unfortunately, current approaches to address this challenge are unsustainable — from economic, ecological and social perspectives.

Today’s investment dollars are going toward business models that are strikingly myopic in their approach, based on the belief that increased consumption is the key to economic growth. As everyone knows, however, our Earth’s natural resources are finite, and they are degrading faster than we are replenishing them. Therefore, we need to shift from a “more consumption” to a “better consumption” model. We need a forward-thinking strategy that will help us build resiliency and regeneration into our ecosystems as we grow food for an increasing population.

By reconsidering our investments and developing new solutions, we will ensure not only enough food for 9 billion, but also a planet that provides clean water, fertile soil and rich biodiversity — as well as healthier consumers and stronger communities — in 2050 and beyond. 

Agricultural evolution

In the past few decades, farming systems have changed dramatically. Following World War II, the agricultural sector underwent a chemical revolution, with DDT being one of the first broadly used pesticides. Many farmers embraced it as a way to control unwanted pests or weeds, but it came at a cost to humans and wildlife. By the 1960s, it was linked to nervous system and liver damage, breast cancer, miscarriages, developmental delays and male infertility.

Although DDT is now banned in the United States, other chemicals are similarly concerning. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is used extensively worldwide but has been linked to birth defects and cancers. In addition, a 2009 paper published in the European Journal of Agronomy finds it compromises plants’ defense mechanisms, making them more susceptible to disease and ultimately leading to reduced yields.

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