THE BLOG
26/01/2018 15:58 SAST | Updated 26/01/2018 15:58 SAST

Mega-Trends That'll Underpin Food Sector In The Medium Term

The agricultural sector will need to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change, technology and infrastructure.

Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters

HuffPost SA

Yesterday, U.S. agricultural economist Jason Lusk wrote a wonderful piece in his personal blog about the disruptive trends in food and agriculture. Lusk identified six key trends on the horizon.

While Lusk's sentiments do correspond to my own, I would like to add a few more trends that I believe will also underpin the food and agricultural sector in the medium to long run – particularly on the African continent.

Climate change and the management of environmental risks such as droughts

The exact impacts of climate change are still highly uncertain and are likely to vary significantly across regions, but two general predictions are that much of Africa will experience greater variability in rainfall and a rise in temperatures.

Naturally, this will have a knock-on effect on agricultural production, with a possible decline in crop production, altering the geographic spread of crops, horticulture and animal production. While other sectors of the economy may see a greater focus on climate-change mitigation, agriculture will need to focus on climate-change adaptability.

In order to deliver climate resilience to agriculture over the short to medium term, and to begin the transformative process needed for long-term resilience and sustainability, attention needs to be zoned in.

It requires the focus to be on conservation agriculture for all commodities and farming systems, as well as the adoption of new irrigation technology to drastically improve water-use efficiency by crops (especially high-value crops).

Africans are urbanising, which means more people will be getting their daily food from retailers instead of producing for themselves.

Infrastructure

Although the South African agricultural sector is arguably one of the most advanced on the African continent, there is still room for improvement, particularly in the former homelands. Therefore, the subject of infrastructure and technological advancement will remain a key factor in the near future for the success of both commercial and smallholder farmers (not only in South Africa, but across the continent).

Technology

There are already clear examples of this through precision farming and other methods. Moreover, the climate-change aspect could also lead to further developments in agricultural technology, such as seed breeding (an effort to find better seeds that adapt to erratic weather changes). The Water-Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) by Monsanto is a clear example of such efforts, as it is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions.

Demographics

Africans are urbanising, which means more people will be getting their daily food from retailers instead of producing for themselves. This is an opportunity for agribusiness to expand their share in the retail space, in order to meet the needs of the urban consumers.

Charles Darwin said that "it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change". In the same vein, the agricultural sector will need to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change, technology, infrastructure and proactive social and environmental sustainability initiatives.

The sectors will need to be adaptive and innovative to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the urbanising demographic of the African continent.

HuffPost SA