I also think we can improve the efficiency of food systems, markets, supply chain. There are people talking about having drones pick up food from the farmers and take it to a market so that we avoid the problems of the inefficient infrastructure. There are all sorts of things we can do around digital marketplaces, like linking small farmers to buyers digitally, and we are experimenting with that right now at the World Food Programme.
So much of the water that is used by people goes on agriculture. Do we have a water problem as well and how can we innovate our way out of that?
Robert Opp: Scarcity of water in certain spaces is a major problem of course. There are vertical farming and other water-efficient farming techniques. We were experimenting with hydroponics, using it in a very space-constrained environment of refugee camps.
But then there is the issue of water in terms of our oceans. We need to apply the same kind of thinking that I’ve just talked about with agriculture to the aquatic value chain. It is important to collect data, as we can build solutions and business models out of the data sources that are coming our way.
I see this coming with the ubiquitousness of satellite images, drones that are able to take assessment images and low-cost sensors that can be put in the ground or water.
Christiana Figueres: Climate change is disrupting the previously stable hydrological cycle in the world and in particular hydrological cycle in the regions. The agricultural belts around the planet have started shifting as they are not getting the same level of precipitation as they used to. So we need to develop seeds and plants that are more resistant to drought so that we can continue cultivating food in the current areas.
We also need to expect a shift in the geography of food production and plan for it ahead of time. In April Johannesburg was about to run out of water because they had 3 years of drought. Being prepared for that kind of disruption in the hydrological cycle is going to be absolutely critical.
What technology do you think is absolutely vital that we harness in the next few years?
Robert Opp: We can build insurance or microinsurance programs and products to help farmers survive the drought cycles. The World Bank and the United Nations with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are working on a famine action mechanism to predict famine and take action on early stage. This is going to save us a lot of food and money later on.
Richard Shirreff: The key is agility and quick decision making. We should not only collect data but funnel it into a single source of truth. In other words, technology needs to give us an opportunity to make sense of the data that we collect.
Christiana Figueres: Our problems come from resource inefficiency. All the technologies that can help us make food production much more efficient between supply and demand, transport and distribution are actually that technologies that we need as soon as possible.