The demands on food systems to meet human needs over the next 50 years are high. One in three people in the world are malnourished and many countries are confronted with the double burden of dietary energy and micronutrient deficiency co-existing with rising rates of overweight and obesity. We are making progress in relative terms on hunger but in absolute terms the number of malnourished is increasing, and projections show that climate change has the potential to decrease the nutritive quality of food. We still need to grow food production by 60-70% by 2050 to meet global demand. Agricultural sustainability is challenged, 20% of agricultural land is degraded and climate change is imposing a productivity drag in key food production areas. Eighty percent of the world’s poorest live in rural areas and in fast growing developing economies income gaps are growing as two speed economies develop. Whereas the Green revolution was spectacular success with a single transformational innovation that avoided hunger for an estimated 1 billion people and increased global food production capacity by around 40% with a technology that was relatively simple to implement with the technological innovation embodied in these improved seed varieties [albeit with considerable enabling systems around seed distribution and intensification of agriculture], the interconnected systemic nature of the current food system crises makes another single innovation success unlikely. The consensus report of the American academies of sciences concluded that, “Progress in meeting major goals can occur only when the scientific community begins to more methodically integrate science, technology, human behaviour, economics, and policy .” The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) which Australia reports to and that are increasingly been used for business reporting, set simultaneous goals, and agricultural and agricultural value chains are important to success of many of the goals. Collectively these pose the challenge not just to increase food production, but to increase productivity and the nutritional value of diets, increase the value to the bioeconomy from agriculture and to do this without negative environmental effects and whilst improving social equity and justice. Nowhere is the challenge of the sustainable production and consumption goals (SDG12) more evident than in agriculture; and nowhere is it more challenging than in Agriculture where the change requires intersection with many sets of human activity and in some cases powerful and controlling interests within food systems. Reports such as that from the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems, show that food system transformation can meet some of these simultaneous challenges, but the pathways for such transformations are not clear. Indeed recent studies have shown that while agriculture has the potential to improve nutrition through several pathways in regions such as South Asia, the potential is not being realised. In summary the goals and potential are clear and often articulated, however the pathway is fraught.
This talk looks what these challenges for agriculture mean for the research agenda, and specifically what are the implications for public agricultural R&D organisations.
Dr. Battaglia guides CSIRO’s work in Agriculture and Global Change, work that looks at practice and science to adapt food systems to environmental climate, market and social change. Previously he formed and then led CSIRO’s work on Agriculture and Greenhouse Gas Mitigation leading among other things to the first national assessment of the potential of the land sector to contribute to mitigation, and supporting government to design and implement its national greenhouse gas mitigation programs. Battaglia has a background in forest systems science, being the recipient of the International Union of Forest Research Organisations Science Excellence Award for global contributions to Forest Modelling, and having at various times led CSIRO’s and parts of New Zealand’s’ forest science research capability. He is leading an incubated company in CSIRO, FutureFeed, that seeks to commercialise anti-methanogenic seaweed, engaging with the Australian and US.