Many challenges, opportunities face agriculture: NIC

The National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) quadrennial report on global trends highlights agricultural risks and opportunities between now and 2035.

Investors examining global agriculture over the next 20 years will likely confront a sector facing significant stress brought on by extreme weather events, soil degradation and even the side-effects of efforts to enhance human longevity, according to a study of global trends released earlier this week by the National Intelligence Council.

Entitled Paradox of Progress and drawn from conversations with more than 2,500 people — from experts and government officials to students, women’s groups, entrepreneurs and transparency advocates — in more than 35 countries, the report examines key social forces at work in today’s world and lays out three central scenarios designed to help guide policymakers through 2035.

The “Islands” scenario focuses on the results of a slowing economy and an uncertain outlook for globalization. The “Orbits” scenario examines tensions between states, disruptive technologies and speculates as to the results of a future nuclear war. The “Communities” scenario details the decentralization of authority from national governments towards their local counterparts and other emerging networks.

“We are living in a paradox,” according to the report. “The achievements of the industrial and information ages are shaping a world to come that is both more dangerous and richer with opportunity than ever before. Whether promise or peril prevails will turn on choices of humankind.”

The report goes on to detail the way in which agriculture and food security will be shaped by those decisions, including the response to rapidly-degrading soil conditions, concerns about the safety of genetically-modified foods and changes in demand brought about by what it calls the “almost-universal” goal of increasing human longevity. It specifically mentions South Asia as a region where changes to established weather patterns will likely complicate agricultural production and raise food security concerns that could disrupt societies.

The report also states that agriculture could continue to be a sticking point in negotiations on multilateral trade deals, but also speculates that the US and the Netherlands would be the main beneficiaries of a Chinese economy that has reformed towards an increased import reliance in food and agricultural products.

While Paradox of Progress highlights expectations of production challenges in the face of climate change, the report also expresses optimism for the use of technologies designed to meet those challenges.

The report speculates that local agriculture could get a boost under the carbon taxes seen as likely under the “Islands” scenario; that advances in gene-editing could help boost agricultural productivity, growing areas and crop resistance to severe weather and plant diseases; and that advancements in the use of GMOs and desalination technologies could help Africa’s economic growth rate surpass that of Asia, a headline it imagines could appear in 2032.