Building a sustainable future in agriculture is a topic that is being discussed more and more. Indeed, more companies are creating entire divisions and dedicating large parts of their budgets to understand this concept.
As consumers become more informed about what goes into their food and where it comes from, it is down to those companies providing products to ensure these new demands are met. ‘Sustainability’ includes many different considerations including transparency, environmental impact, and even ethical and moral standards.
Jack Bobo, a speaker at the first Women in Food and Agriculture event and Chief Executive of Futurity, took some time to talk to us about sustainability in the food and agriculture industries. Futurity is a food foresight company that helps food and agriculture organisations understand emerging consumer trends and behaviours to position themselves to thrive in an ever more complex world. Mr Bobo also has extensive experience prior to Futurity within the agriculture industry; with high-ranking positions at synthetic biology company Intrexon Corporation and the U.S. Department of State.
The most important change that would lead towards sustainable agriculture and a sustainable food system is a change in mindset, says Mr Bobo.
“We cannot achieve our environmental objectives by focusing on the top one, two or even three technologies, ideas or policies. Environmentally friendly agriculture can only occur if we reduce food waste and improve productivity of plants and animals and adopt healthier diets and adopt a dozen other innovations. Sustainable agriculture is the sum of its parts.”
The consumer plays a key role in businesses’ decision making, but should agriculture be working towards the one issue consumers care most about, or another issue that maybe has a more substantial impact?
Mr Bobo says: ‘There isn’t one consumer, there are many (rich and poor – environmentalist – foodie, rural – urban) and they all have different priorities. Even individual consumers have competing interests.
“We sometimes buy things because they are a good value and other times, we want expensive or sustainable or nutritious foods to meet other needs or values. The food industry should work to deliver products that are healthier and better for the environment tomorrow than they were yesterday.”
Reacting to change
Overall, it seems like a crucial aspect to creating a sustainable future for food and agriculture is to not only understand the changing needs of consumers but to also embrace them. Those companies that are most successful in building and maintaining sustainability are those which are able to see these changes coming and act accordingly.
Mr Bobo says: ‘The automotive industry is not necessarily the most sustainable sector of the economy, however it is built on a philosophy of continuous improvement. Each year cars deliver new features that generally includes improvements in safety and mileage. By setting common goals the industry ensures that everyone is held to the same standard.”