Nature and Biodiversity

Feeding the future: 3 ways our food system must transform to feed the world

Farmers with tech devices in a field, illustrating the need to transform the global food system

The global food system needs a rethink Image: PepsiCo

Jim Andrew
Executive Vice-President; Chief Sustainability Officer, PepsiCo
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COP28

  • Climate change is impacting how our food is grown, every degree Celsius of warming could reduce the yields of staple crops by between 3.1 and 7.4%.
  • 3 major enablers are required to drive the necessary food system transformation.
  • We must work together effectively to drive food and climate action at scale.

Climate change is impacting how our food is grown. Around the globe, we are seeing what used to be 100-year weather events causing destruction every other year. Crops are failing due to poor soil health and ever-increasing droughts. According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, every degree Celsius of warming could reduce the yields of staple crops by between 3.1 and 7.4%.

At PepsiCo, food is our business. We see the impact of climate change on food systems everywhere. We work with 40,000 farmers from 60 countries and through our network of over 1,000 manufacturing sites we make food and beverages that are enjoyed by consumers more than one billion times a day. Given our size and scale, we know we have an important role to play in helping to drive change towards a more resilient way of producing food to support farmers, communities and our planet.

As critical players gather for COP28, our collective path forward must prioritize a major transformation in the way our food system operates. We urgently need more action to keep food on the world’s table for decades to come. At PepsiCo, we aim to help lead this transformation and need others to join us – given we’re all in this together.

There are three major enablers that are required to move the needed food system transformation from something people are talking about into something people are actually doing something about:

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How is the World Economic Forum helping farmers with technology?

1. Supportive and consistent policy frameworks

Many of the challenges the global food system faces are systemic in nature and require significant policy intervention and concerted government action to combat. This must start with a clear signal from policymakers that recognizes the importance of scaling regenerative agriculture practices. Only by doing this will the role of agricultural systems in building resilience for the planet and its people become a reality

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2. Game-changing innovation that can be scaled across the globe

When it comes to tackling food system challenges, innovation is key and development in this area is increasing given the ever-larger amounts of capital being invested in the space. The private sector can play a role in accelerating that adoption by finding, testing and scaling innovation. At PepsiCo, one way we’ve done that is through our Positive Agriculture Outcomes Accelerator. This offers farmers and agricultural communities co-investment to accelerate diverse and impact-driven Positive Agriculture projects. The programme also includes funding for ag-tech start-ups offering innovative products and practices with the potential to scale. The Positive Agriculture Outcomes Accelerator, now in its third year, will catalyze more than $30 million in investments to support nearly 40 agricultural projects through 2028.

As we work to scale regenerative agriculture across 7 million acres globally, one hurdle is reassuring farmers that making the transition to different methods or new technologies will deliver benefits for their land and their business. That’s a mandate as farmers have one chance a year to make a profit, they need to know change will breed success and that change will work on their individual farm, given every farm and farmer is different.

One of the most effective ways we’ve found to share knowledge with farmers around practices and technologies is through our network of 89 demonstration farms. Many regenerative agriculture practices are not new; in fact, some of these methods have been around for decades, but they’ve fallen away as chemical interventions grew. We need to reintroduce these techniques with farmers alongside sharing innovations, such as new seed varieties, precision agriculture and drip irrigation.

On our demonstration farms innovative growers test and refine new technologies and ways of growing, in partnership with leading providers and agronomists. They identify and share best practices and technologies that work for the specific needs of their farm. These innovations might focus on improving soil health or delivering insights around crop growth that can help minimize chemical fertilizer and water use. They share what they learn freely with a network of other farmers, who can 'touch and feel' new innovations from someone they know, who is local and dealing with the same challenges. This peer-to-peer network and best-practice sharing is a vital component of the demonstration farm model and is helping to de-risk and accelerate innovation adoption.

3. Strategic partnerships and catalyzed impact

We must accelerate greater progress across global supply chains through strategic, collaborative partnerships among companies, governments and NGOs. One example is PepsiCo’s recent $216 million investment with farmer-facing organizations – Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund and Precision Conservation Management (a programme of the Illinois Corn Growers Association) – to drive the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices across the United States.

The combined impact will support the accelerated uptake of regenerative practices on more than 3 million acres and is expected to deliver approximately 3 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emission reductions and removals by 2030. This partnership was possible in no small part due to a catalytic grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Initiative.

Partnerships like this are one way we can catalyze impact. The more we partner and work with each other, the greater impact we can have. We need more of these break-the-mold partnerships to enable a sustainable global food system.

As an industry, we must work together effectively to drive food and climate action at scale. COP28 is only one moment in time. We have to move conversations to action and deliver the policy frameworks, innovation acceleration and impactful collaboration to bring true, lasting change, for the planet and its people.

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