Gene-editing technology has the potential to revolutionize food and agriculture by making crops more fertile or disease-resistant, extending shelf lives and improving nutritional value. Gene-edited food and animal feed are poised to be consumed at scale in the US. This will fuel heated debate in 2019 between consumers, regulators, scientists and industry around the future place of this tool in our food system. The topic will be particularly contentious in Europe, considering the continent’s historic skepticism of GMOs.
It is estimated that 80 percent of food in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is produced by 475 million smallholder farms that are less than 2 hectares in size. These smallholder farmers have historically lacked access to resources, finance and knowledge, but that is set to change. With internet-enabled mobile phone adoption at an inflection point, 2019 may be the year in which farming apps and digital services make their way into the hands of millions of emerging-market farmers. This will have a meaningful impact on the productivity and transparency of our food system, the livelihood of smallholders and create massive economic opportunity.
Farming has moved from the field to rooftops, tunnels and containers as start-ups leverage technology to grow fresh produce in new environments. The opportunity to build food supply chains closer to the consumer is exciting, but novel farming presents a set of challenges of its own, from real estate optimization to the implementation of technology and brand building. Next year will be one of reckoning for the innovators in this space, as some face the tough economic reality of scaling an agriculture operation, while others forge ahead and develop unique and defensible new production systems.
The leading food and beverage companies have been busily streamlining their organizations, acquiring emerging brands and funding innovation at an early stage to combat declining market share. We expect more of the same going forward. But could 2019 be the year in which Big Food finally begins developing products and go-to-market channels that actually resonate with a millennial consumer increasingly disenfranchised with what were once household brand names?
Software in agriculture
Agriculture is often seen as the “last frontier” of digitization. While software and cloud services giants from IBM to Microsoft and Amazon have dipped their toes in our industry, we have yet to see major advances in building an ecosystem for agriculture. Could 2019 be the year in which agriculture emerges as a battleground for the tech giants? Their bold moves around the smart home and self-driving cars are shaking up the household appliance and automotive industries. A similar disruption of agriculture would be a much-needed catalyst for a farming software and precision ag landscape that is full of promise, but still fragmented, lacking in interoperability and too dependent on industry incumbents.