5 Biggest Challenges in the Food Industry

Despite numerous breakthroughs in agricultural technology and culinary creativity over the years, global food systems grapple with persistent issues that impact people and nature. These are the biggest challenges in the food industry that require collective action across the entire chain:

1. One in every 3 tons of food produced is lost along the supply chain

Around 1.3 gigatonnes of food is lost or wasted every single year, across the food supply chain. This figure amounts to one third of all the food produced at a global scale for human consumption. Such waste comes with a footprint of 3.3 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions – the 3rd largest carbon emitter after the USA and China – and annual water usage of 250 km3, twice the volume of the Dead Sea. Around 60% of that waste happens in households.

Potential solutions include:

  • Improving infrastructure, storage facilities, and market access in developing nations in order to reduce post-harvest losses
  • Promoting awareness, shifting consumer behaviour
  • Adopting innovative technologies at a global scale

2. Agriculture uses 38% of the Earth’s surface and 70% of freshwater

Agriculture uses up to 38% of the Earth’s land surface (excluding Greenland and Antarctica), which corresponds to almost half the planet’s habitable land. However, current food systems focus on short-term, intensive production rather than environmental sustainability.

We are now facing irreparable loss of land due to soil erosion, nutrient depletion, salinisation and contamination with nitrates and phosphates from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. In fact, around 33% of the world’s soil is moderately to highly degraded. Similarly, agriculture is responsible for 70% of the global freshwater withdrawals, 78% of the global ocean and freshwater eutrophication, as well as for 80% of global deforestation.

Potential solutions include:

  • Strong soil and land governance
  • Smart innovations from or to farmers

3. Global population is estimated to reach 10 billion people by 2050

The disregard for long-term sustainability in agriculture is putting immense strain over the planet’s resources, which can in turn undermine food security and food safety. This is especially daunting when paired with the rapid rate of population growth. The world population is forecasted to reach just under 10 billion people by 2050. This means agricultural output will need to increase by over 50%, accounting not only for the increase in food production but also for food waste, non-food production, and climate change-related issues.

Potential solutions include:

  • Strong soil and land governance
  • Smart innovations from or to farmers

4. Food production accounts for one third of the world’s greenhouse emissions

Food production is responsible for one third of the world’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – namely CO2, methane and N2O. The majority of these (30-40%) are attributed to agricultural production, livestock and fish farms. Nitrogen-based fertilisers alone are responsible for up to 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon equivalent emissions (circa 5% of the global GHG emissions), which is more than global aviation and shipping combined.

Perhaps because GHG emissions related too food systems may seem like an unavoidable cost of feeding the world, they seem to get less attention than emissions from other sectors. A 2020 research paper investigated the impacts of five interventions for reducing emissions associated with current food systems.

Potential solutions include:

  • High-yield crops, obtained via crop genetics and bioengineering
  • Cutting food wastage to half
  • Adjusting global per-capita caloric consumption to “healthy levels”
  • Improved farm practices – such as fertiliser management
  • Adopting a plant-based diet such as the Mediterranean diet

If such solutions are implemented partially, at a 50% global adoption, we could see the emissions decrease by 63% by 2010; were they fully implemented and fully adopted, it could be possible to achieve negative net emissions between 2020 and 2100.

5. Almost 1 in every 10 still face chronic hunger

And finally, the last on this list of the biggest challenges in the food industry is the global hunger crisis that still prevails. According to FAO’s The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 report, 9.2% of the world population faced chronic hunger in 2022 – around 735 million people. This also represents an increase of 122 million, when compared with 2019 values, pre-pandemic.

Some of the factors contributing to this situation are climate change, unsustainable agricultural practices, food wastage, and unequal access to land and resources. The areas most affected by food insecurity and undernourishment are countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Potential solutions include:

  • Specific policies and governance laws
  • Investment in sustainable agriculture and food wastage reduction solutions
  • Promote responsible sourcing and empowerment of small-scale farmers
  • Collaborate with other stakeholders such as governments, NGOs, and consumers

All it takes is a Spark

The biggest challenges in the food industry are intertwined, creating a complex web that threatens the health of our planet and its people. As such, it is equally evident that small improvements in one aspect can have a ripple effect across the entire system. The food industry holds immense power – the power to change the food systems from the inside out. This change, however, will not come overnight – it has to be a systemic transformation. It will require a leap into a regenerative future, from innovative technology to shaping consumer behaviour.

As these issues continue to worsen, the world is reaching a breaking point. We support and empower companies to grow and create change, by providing them with the right tools and processes, and promoting synergies and best practices within the industry. Our mission is to make the world healthier, more sustainable, starting with the very foundation of life itself: food. Get in contact, and let’s spark change together.

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There is no greater mission than improving life itself.
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