By Jon Wallace, Jupiter Green Investment Trust
The war in Ukraine has brought the fragility of our global food system into sharp focus, but it didn’t create the problem.
The devastating effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have forced countries around the world to focus urgent attention on the matter of food security. As Ukraine’s ports are cut off and grain production is halted, it would be all too easy to attribute the conflict as the triggering factor for the looming global food shortages.
In reality, the fragility of our global food system was being tested long before the war began. To blame the ongoing conflict for global food shortages ignores several longer-term contributing factors that have been gaining momentum for years – factors like climate change, water scarcity and biodiversity loss – all of which, if not addressed, are on track to have a devastating impact on the planet’s food supply.
The agricultural sector is utterly dependent on climate and therefore severely impacted by climate change, creating multi-faceted food production challenges. According to the UN FAO, food production accounts for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, 30% of global energy consumption, 72% of freshwater usage and 40% of land usage.
This means agriculture is both a major contributor to climate change, water stress and biodiversity loss, as well as being a severely disrupted by it – with knock on impacts for food security. In the past year alone, the chances that the world will warm by more than 1.5C in the next five years has increased from 40% to 50%.
Water stress caused by climate change is another factor threatening the livelihood and production output of farmers worldwide. According to the University of Cambridge, since 2015, droughts in Europe have become more severe than any over the past 2,100 years. Whilst severe droughts are affecting many regions across the globe, flooding and hurricanes are affecting others.
Biodiversity has traditionally been overlooked in the climate debate although it is gaining prominence in the discussion about agricultural resilience. Our food production depends on a multitude of species and the delicate ‘ecosystem services’ they provide including pollination and pest control. The current rate of biodiversity loss is 1,000 times higher than the historical rate, with mass extinctions caused by human activity including the destruction of wild habitats to create farmland, pollution, and unsustainable hunting and fishing practices.
An environmental solution
Despite these challenges, it’s pertinent here to share a note of optimism. Food security concerns are helping to drive the development and commercialisation of innovative solutions that should have huge environmental benefits, and with significant pace. Cellular agriculture is one example, i.e. using cell cultures to create cell-based food or materials, drawing on biotechnology, tissue engineering, and molecular biology, among others, to produce proteins, fats, and tissues for consumption.
The first regulatory approval of cellular meat happened in Singapore in late 2020 (where only 1% of land is available for food production and the population are almost wholly dependent on imports) followed by Israel. The US FDA is expected to approve cellular fish produce as early as this year, which would be transformational to global investment flows to this space.
If the challenges of global food security are multi-faceted and interconnected, so too must be their solutions. From an investment perspective, the theme of ‘Sustainable Agriculture & Land Ecosystems’ is rich with investment opportunities that can prosper directly from secular agricultural shifts, but so too can solutions in the ‘Clean Energy’ theme and ‘Water’ thematic given their pivotal role in addressing wider issues that feature heavily in a confluence of risks that undermine food security.
Environmental solutions offer investors an incredibly diverse investible universe, rich with innovation. Technologies such as efficient irrigation and food waste systems can help to address many of the aforementioned challenges in the near-term, but it’s the long-term view that really matters if we are to truly safeguard our future food production and supply chain.