World’s food and agriculture system broken: Olam chief

LN Revathy Coonoor | Updated on October 01, 2018

Sunny Verghese, co-founder and group CEO, Olam international and Chairman, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, urged planters to wake up to uberisation of the industry with ability to develop brands with social media and develop a sense of environmental intelligence

Delivering the keynote address on “Reimagine Global Agriculture: How do we feed a growing population sustainably” at the 125th annual conference of UPASI, he said “the world’s food and agriculture system is broken.”

While on the one hand there are millions going without proper food, on the other, there is the problem of over-feeding and still worse with several others suffering from micro nutrient deficiency. To ascertain the true cost of production, the FAO, in 2015 sought to establish the cost of externalities of the food we derive from nature, particularly for produce such as rice, wheat, corn and soya bean and for protein items such as beef, pork, lamb and poultry meat.

Planetary boundary

“The findings revealed that the invisible cost we were losing each year was equal to the financial capital the world lost during the global financial crisis of 2008,” he said.

“Now, 10 years after the crisis, we are still weeping and talking about it. The problem on the demand side is growing population; there is a revolution in the dietary habits and established brands are losing out to insurgent ones,” he added.

On the supply side, agriculture accounts for 25 per cent of the world’s green-house gases, 71 per cent of fresh water withdrawals and a huge chunk of biodiversity loss. “We cannot afford to do farming with more water, fertiliser,” he said.

By doing this and breaching the planetary boundaries, the world is headed for disruptive climate change. The first planetary boundary is greenhouse gases and this has started to show by way of rising temperatures globally. The summer of 2018 was a wake up call for all, he said.

The second planetary boundary is biodiversity loss. Since 1970, we have lost 60 per cent of the world’s wild-life population and more species are becoming extinct with every passing year.

The third boundary breach is indiscriminate use of fertiliser, followed by land-use change. There are five more planetary boundaries that have not been breached yet. “If we can reverse the ozone layer depletion because of concerted efforts, we can fix the other planetary boundaries as well. But for this to happen, each one of us should be a change agent, raise the bar on environmental intelligence. The solution to most of these will be science,” he said.

Experts estimate the funding requirement for agri R&D at close to $50 billion to solve these problems against the present spend of less than $5 billion, Verghese said.

Published on October 01, 2018

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