Davos Agenda

Building a resilient future: The power of data and AI for food and water security

Food and water security is a growing problem.

Food and water security is a growing problem. Image: REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Usha Rao-Monari
Commissioner, Global Commission on the Economics of Water, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Ranveer Chandra
Managing Director, Research for Industry; Chief Technology Officer, Agri-Food, Microsoft
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Davos Agenda

  • The world's rapid population growth, anticipated to surpass 9 billion by 2050, results in a heightened demand for food and water.
  • Today, 16 October, marks World Food Day, which this year is focused on water.
  • Achieving food and water security necessitates a holistic approach that embraces innovative technologies and data-driven decision-making.

At the World Economic Forum's Global Future Council on Food and Water Security, we are working on ways to address the urgent challenges surrounding food and water security. In this inaugural blog post, we explore the critical issues at hand and provide an early perspective on potential solutions that leverage innovative technologies and data-driven decision-making to pave the way for a resilient and sustainable future.

The food and water security problem

The world's rapid population growth, anticipated to surpass 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9 billion by 2050, results in a heightened demand for food, with an expected growth of 50% by 2030 and 70% by 2050. This demand, however, is confronted with considerable losses and wastage, as approximately 30% of global food production (equivalent to 1.3 billion tons) is lost or wasted annually.

This squanders valuable water resources and also contributes to rising food prices, exacerbating poverty and undernourishment. Shifting dietary habits towards water-intensive food products further strains water availability, while inadequate water management in agriculture and the food value chain leads to negative impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. Additionally, decision-making in food and water security suffers from a lack of accurate and comprehensive data, hindering effective planning and action.

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What is the Forum doing to address the global water challenge?

Solution pathways

To address these challenges, we propose several solution pathways:

First, embracing innovative technologies is essential. By adopting advanced technologies that enhance crop yields, optimize water usage, reduce agricultural pollution and minimize post-harvest losses, we can make food production greener and more resilient.

Second, strengthening water-use regulation and ownership is crucial. Establishing robust policies and institutional frameworks that regulate water use in agriculture, while incentivizing responsible practices and penalizing unsustainable ones, will lead to more efficient resource management.

Third, promoting efficient water and food recycling strategies is necessary. Creating a stronger agriculture value chain through the implementation of strategies that minimize waste and reduce costs, such as water and food recycling, contributes to a more sustainable and secure food system.

Fourth, facilitating open access to data and information is vital. Ensuring comprehensive and accurate data availability to all stakeholders, including policymakers, the private sector and farmers, is essential for informed decision-making in food and water security.

Lastly, harnessing data-driven analytical and predictive frameworks is key. Utilizing advanced data analytics and predictive models throughout the agricultural value chain enhances productivity and efficiency, enabling effective resource allocation and risk management and supporting resilient decision-making.

The power of AI in food and water decision-making

We propose the development of a robust food/water data stack, an advanced data collection and aggregation platform that empowers stakeholders to make well-informed decisions. By providing open access to this comprehensive data stack, we can facilitate tailored analyses and enable real-time, forward-looking decisions that drive progress in the food, water and agriculture sectors.

The incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) is essential to bolstering the decision-making process. AI serves as a powerful catalyst for enhancing analytical and predictive capabilities, empowering stakeholders to manage resources more effectively and mitigate risks with greater precision. Customizing these AI-driven tools to address specific situations and user needs is vital for maximizing their potential and driving transformative change in the realm of food and water security.

AI's predictive abilities can be applied to various aspects of food and water security, such as anticipating crop yields based on weather patterns, soil conditions and historical trends. This enables farmers to make informed decisions regarding planting, irrigation and harvesting. Additionally, AI can help predict and monitor water demand and supply, allowing for better allocation and management of water resources. AI-powered models can also forecast potential risks, such as pest infestations or droughts, allowing stakeholders to take preventive measures and mitigate the impacts on food and water security. By harnessing the power of AI in these areas, we can optimize resource utilization, reduce waste and ensure a more sustainable and resilient food and water system.

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Food and water security requires a holistic response

Achieving food and water security necessitates a holistic approach that embraces innovative technologies, data-driven decision-making and the integration of AI. Through collaborative efforts, we can build a resilient and sustainable future where the challenges of food and water security are effectively tackled, ensuring the well-being of present and future generations.

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