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Adapting to climate change while reducing environmental impact: the dual challenge for the agrifood industry

Laura Gherasim
Jun 13, 2024

In this third chapter of our food ecosystem insights, we explore how technology can help agriculture address its environmental risks while creating positive social impact in the face of climate change.

In recent years, the agrifood industry has become increasingly conscious of its role in environmental issues. The agrifood sector is estimated to account for 19%-29% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and agriculture irrigation represents 70% of water use worldwide. At the same time, 33% of fish stocks are expected to be overfished and the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 25% and 75% of their original carbon stock. These statistics underscore the significant influence of agriculture on the earth’s increasingly fragile ecosystems. 

Moreover, rising temperatures, rainfalls, and unpredictable weather events are altering agricultural conditions, leading to decreased yields and increased crop vulnerability. Typical weather patterns are shifting due to climate change, making harvest times much harder to predict. These changes are affecting not only the quality and availability of crops but also farmers’ income, stability, and ultimately their livelihoods.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that 10% of the current suitable area for major crops and livestock will become unsuitable for farming by 2050 under high-emission scenarios. This presents a dual challenge for the agrifood industry: it must adapt to the changing climate while minimizing its current impacts on ecosystems, water reserves, and GHG emissions.

Pinpointing environmental impact

Digital technology, data, and AI tools offer promising solutions for reducing agriculture’s environmental impact. Precision farming techniques use data from sensors to target resources (such as water or fertilizer) only where they’re required. For instance, targeted crop spraying can reduce chemical usage by up to 90%, thereby optimizing production, minimizing waste, and reducing the ecological footprint of farming activities.

Helping farmers adapt to climate change

Technology also provides important tools to help producers adapt to climate change. Real-time data analytics support farmers in making informed decisions and mitigating risks associated with climate variability. For example, data insights based on weather forecasts can make recommendations about when to plant and harvest crops, helping farmers optimize yields despite increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.

Furthermore, the industry is also exploring innovative production methods to reduce its environmental impact. Lower-impact meat alternatives, such as protein-rich microalgae, are gaining traction as sustainable food sources. Digital technology can play a central role in such operations, identifying how to reduce freshwater use in production methods, for example. These alternatives diversify food production and present opportunities to reduce carbon footprint and adapt to changing climate conditions.

Technology can advance the sector and empower business decision-makers

New technology represents a significant opportunity for the agrifood industry and business decision-makers.

By embracing digital, data, and AI, producers will be better equipped to meet the dual challenge of adapting to the effects of climate change, while also reducing agriculture’s environmental impact. Leveraging these tools contributes to optimizing production processes, minimizing waste, and the adoption of sustainable practices. 

Technology can also provide foresight into the impacts of climate change. This enables decision-makers to take into account climate adaptation when designing and determining strategies, and shape what adaptation strategies look like for organizations. It can also help build scenarios around unintended consequences, for example on farmers’ income and livelihoods. This provides a view of trade-offs between costs and benefits. In this way, decision-makers can take a systemic approach, looking from an ecological, social, technological, and cultural perspective.

Technology is therefore a key enabler for the sector to mitigate its impacts more quickly and accelerate the ecosystem restoration that is needed to ensure food security for the future.

Capgemini delves further into the challenges and opportunities for the food industry in our latest ReThink whitepaper, Food for Thought: How can collaboration and technology drive a more sustainable food ecosystem? We would like to thank all contributors & our partner, Microsoft, for facilitating and jointly developing this whitepaper.

Food for thought

How can collaboration and technology drive more sustainable food ecosystem

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Laura Gherasim

Director, Sustainable Futures, Capgemini Invent
Laura is currently a Director of Sustainable Futures for Capgemini Invent, the innovation arm of the consulting firm Capgemini, leading a team operating at the intersect of technology & innovation, technology with sustainability strategy. She works across major FTSE 100 corporate clients in the consumer product, retail, energy, and financial services sectors.