Photo credit Danci Yuan.
On the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving over 80 students gathered at the Gleacher Center to listen to expert panelists discuss "The Future of Food" at the first annual FEAD Fall Forum. Dean Stacey Kole welcomed the audience and thanked Booth's newest professional student group, FEAD, the Food, Environment, Agribusiness and Development Group for bringing the community together to discuss one of the world's most important subjects—food.
The conversation was framed with the fact that by 2050 global food production must nearly double to feed the additional three billion people that will join us on the planet, all within the context of land and water scarcity, climate change, increasing food prices, and an obesity epidemic in wealthy countries like the U.S. The panel was expertly moderated by Professor Scott Meadow, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship, and was structured to include a broad group of perspectives including large global agribusiness and the local, sustainable, organic movement.
Kathy Nyquist of New Venture Advisors, a food and agriculture focused venture capitalist discussed how a new business model known as "food hubs" has the potential to vastly increase the efficiency and lower the costs of obtaining local food from small farmers that traditionally sell food at farmer's markets. Dana Benigno, the Director of Chicago's Green City Farmers Market, added that farmers markets are playing important roles in connecting people with "real" food and the farmers that grow it, in addition to providing people who live in "food deserts," places where no grocery stores exist, access to healthy produce and other items.
Curtis Hector, Senior Brand Manager at ConAgra Foods, one of the world's largest CPG companies, argued that while there is a place for organic and local foods in developed countries, its not a scalable solution to feed the world, including the millions in the U.S. that go hungry every night. He also discussed the role of large CPG companies in making nutritious and healthy food, saying its been difficult for them to develop foods that taste great, are healthy and affordable so as to be accessible, primarily because of cost and taste challenges.
Geoff Andersen, Director of Global Citizenship and Strategic Planning at John Deere, told the audience that the issue of food production isn't really the challenge. We produce enough food today to feed everyone on the planet and new technology will make it possible to double crop yields over the next 10 to 15 years. The real issue he says are thing such as food waste, nearly half of the food produced in developed and developing nations is wasted due to things such as lack of storage, causing spoilage, and logistical and operational challenges regarding moving food from places of excess to places of need. He says that with the utilization of precision agriculture, which involves using satellites and advanced computer technology to deliver the exact amount of seed, fertilizers, and water based on a farmlands location and unique qualities, the world will have more food than we can currently support with existing infrastructure and systems. The challenge will be to innovate and scale at a level never before imagined, creating tremendous opportunities.
Most panelists agreed that Africa will see the next major wave of agricultural development and production, but the challenge will be balancing the roles of small holder farmers and large corporations in producing food.
The evening concluded with food, drinks, and networking on the top floor of Gleacher overlooking the beautiful Chicago River. A thought provoking evening heading into the food-packed holiday season.