Building a food-secure future is a huge challenge. It requires a radical rethink of how we produce, process, and consume our food. Rabobank has launched Kickstart Food — a three-year programme focusing on four areas considered key to addressing the world’s sustainable food challenge.
Smarter use of agricultural land
United Nations forecasts suggest that by 2050 the world population will be almost 9.8 billion people — a rise of more than 2 billion on current levels. A challenge is posed by both the increasing number of mouths to feed, and also by the number of people shifting to a “Western” diet — consuming more calories from meat and dairy products.
Gilles Boumeester, head of Rabobank’s Food and Agribusiness Research, says meeting the growing need for food while reducing environmental pressure is “one of the biggest challenges of this century”.
“We need to make smarter use of the available agricultural land,” Boumeester says.
“Currently, about 30% of the land in use is degraded to some extent. Even more problematic is that the most rapid deterioration in soil fertility is in Asia and Africa, two continents where the population will grow the fastest. We must reverse this trend.”
Luckily, farms are increasingly becoming high-tech environments, making use of real-time information.
Scanners provide comprehensive information on the chemical composition of a farmer’s soil, without requiring a laboratory. Sensors in potato fields check that harvesting machinery is properly set. Drones enable farmers to monitor their crops and precisely target fertilisers or pesticides.
These smart agricultural technologies, combined with data-driven precision agriculture, help reduce costs, maximise profits, and minimise ecological impact.
Financial advice and more
Innovation doesn’t come cheap. It often requires substantial up-front investment. This is where Rabobank comes in, explains Boumeester.
“Our long history in the agricultural sector means we’re uniquely placed to understand the funding needs of entrepreneurs in the food and agricultural sector,” he says.
“We don’t just grant loans, we also advise farmers on risk management and help pre-finance seeds, fertiliser, or machinery.”
A lot of what the bank does goes beyond banking. GlobalFarmers.com is an online network where Rabobank’s farming customers exchange knowledge in a trusted environment.
FoodBytes! is the bank’s own pitching platform, connecting food and agricultural start-ups with investors. Recently Arable raised $4.25 million via FoodBytes! to further develop solar-powered sensors, which automatically transmits up to 40 different types of data to the farmer.
“These technologies help raise the quality of agricultural production and with it the quality of the soil,” Boumeester comments.
“Innovation is pivotal in producing more with less, in reducing waste, in balancing the nutritional value of our diets, and in stimulating stable and resilient food markets.”