Industries in Depth

Here's how technology is helping solve agriculture's biggest issues

A farmer on his tractor plowing the field, illustrating the potential of technology in farming

Technology can help farmers improve food security sustainably. Image: Shutterstock

Megan Gerryts
Innovation Specialist, Food and Water, World Economic Forum
Federico Ronca
Lead, Data and Digital Solutions, Food & Water, World Economic Forum
Bianca Bertaccini
Project Specialist, Protein Pathways, Better Living, World Economic Forum
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  • The current ways of producing and consuming food have led to many seemingly intractable issues that threaten the planet and our food security.
  • With a global agri-food system that needs to adapt to the impacts of climate change, as well as feed a growing population of over 8.2 billion people, it’s clear that the way we produce, distribute and consume food must change.
  • The World Economic Forum has launched the Food Innovation Hubs to drive relevant high-end and low-cost inclusive innovation that could have a scalable impact.

Technology in agriculture is nothing new. Civilizations have been developing tools and methods to cultivate the land and domesticate animals ever since the nomadic lifestyle was left by the wayside. The current ways of producing and consuming food, however, have led to many seemingly intractable issues that threaten the planet and risk our ability to feed ourselves in the future.

The agriculture sector is the second largest global emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, second only to the energy sector. It is also responsible for 70% of all freshwater withdrawals globally. Overproduction and unsustainable farming practices, further exacerbated by climate change, are degrading our soil. Today, over half of agricultural land is degraded, resulting in productivity losses of $400 billion per year. The backbone of this system is smallholder farms that produce 29% of the world’s crops.

With a global agri-food system that needs to adapt to the impacts of climate change, as well as feed a growing population of over 8.2 billion people, it’s clear that the way we produce, distribute and consume food must change.

Here, are a few technology solutions offering hope that pave the way towards net-zero and nature-friendly and water-positive agri-food practices.


How is the World Economic Forum helping farmers with technology?


A whopping 14.5% of global emissions come from the animal agriculture industry, with 65% of these emissions attributed to beef and dairy cattle. Investors are now seeing this as an opportunity to focus on protein innovation. In 2022, investments in this space in Europe have increased by 24%, with companies raising €579 million ($622 million). However, to ensure a protein transformation that can secure livelihoods, nutrition and the environment, a multiplicity of transition pathways are needed - innovations that can support sustainable intensification, drive fit-for-purpose diversification and support consumer needs.

Precision fermentation delivers additional solutions to conventional dairy production methods, not only demonstrating the potential of protein innovation, but also contributing to the reduction of environmental impact. The animal-free dairy proteins producer Remilk received regulatory approval for its products from Israel’s Ministry of Health, as well as the Singapore Food Authority. After a successful raise of $120 million, Remilk is embarking on building what might be the largest cow-free milk production facility.

Although technological progress is being made, the transformation of the sector is complex and the cost of innovation is too high. To achieve that progress, we will need coordinated action, targeted policies and investments, and, most importantly, to build trust to ensure that technology facilitates the equitable and sustainable transition of the protein sector, while mitigating unintended consequences.

Freshwater use

As each year brings news of worsening drought conditions, the case for the reduction in freshwater use has never been stronger. Innovation can play a large part in changing our agricultural practices that deplete our freshwater supplies, from precision agriculture that can pinpoint the precise amount of irrigation required, to advances in biotechnologies that can create more drought-tolerant crops.

Kilimo is leveraging the power of big data and machine learning to verify, improve and offset water usage in agriculture. The unique power of this software-as-a-service solution is that it allows farmers to sell water offsets to companies that want to become water-neutral. In monitoring over 370,000 acres across Latin America, over 72 billion litres of water have been saved so far.


Soil degradation

Technologies have a role to play in scaling climate and nature-friendly agricultural practices to safeguard and restore the health of our soils, while contributing to the fight against climate change. The key to making an impact in this area is closing the soil health knowledge gap, often through the use of technologies and data.

Cutting-edge companies, such as Boomitra, are deploying satellite and AI technology to enable the monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon removal credits across the globe. Boomitra is working with over 150,000 farmers and ranchers managing five million acres of land across Africa, South America and Asia. Its platform can measure soil improvements and the soil’s ability to store carbon over time, allowing those third-party verified carbon credits to be sold on the marketplace, with a majority of the revenue generated going directly to the farmer, rancher or landowner. This innovative model has been so successful Boomitra was named as a 2023 finalist for the Earthshot Prize.

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The power of partnerships

Machine learning, AI and precision fermentation are some of the many technology solutions that offer pathways for addressing the longest standing issues in our agri-food system. However, as standalone solutions and without commercially sustainable ecosystems, these technologies will not scale. To gain meaningful traction on these, innovations are also needed in the way we work together.

For this purpose, the World Economic Forum has launched the Food Innovation Hubs, along with several public, private and civil society stakeholders, to drive relevant high-end and low-cost inclusive innovation that could have a scalable impact. Taking a bottom-up and localized approach, these Food Innovation Hubs are under development in India, Colombia, Viet Nam, Europe, UAE and, in the scoping phase, in Kenya and Rwanda. Each hub has a different story and impact vision, including aspirations spanning from virtual to physical hubs.

In India, the Food Innovation Hub operating in the state of Madhya Pradesh has tapped Boomitra in leading a public-private partnership to scale its technologies towards a more sustainable approach to soil health that also improves the lives of farmers. The newest Food Innovation Hub in the UAE is exploring technology solutions to boost production in arid-climate ecosystems, while the Hub in Colombia is focusing on supporting farmers with year-round services and technology to deploy regenerative agriculture at scale.

To enable continued advancement, the Food Innovators Network brings these kinds of innovations within the hubs together, along with the best of the food systems innovation community to promote knowledge exchange, showcase the potential of investible technologies and facilitate opportunities to adopt them at scale. The Network has been engaging 200+ members and embarking on a global movement to unlock the power of public-private partnerships for the delivery and adoption of fit-for-purpose solutions.

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