Industry research for large-scale sustainability
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Framing the big picture

Dear reader,

The world is currently tackling one of humanity’s biggest challenges in Glasgow, where discussions are underway on how to curb climate change. Climate change also affects agriculture and the entire food production process. The food chain both contributes to climate change and is affected by it. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change, leading to water scarcity, a decline in biodiversity and the loss of fertile farmland. We are affected by climate change not only on the global level, but on the local level as well. At the same time, the world population continues to increase, and it is now at 7.9 billion people, as the German Foundation for World Population recently announced. According to the UN, this figure will rise to 9.7 billion people by the year 2050. The UN is holding no fewer than three summits within the span of a year to address food systems, the climate and protecting biodiversity. Change is needed.

But what kind of change? A brief report from the canton of Zurich has made people sit up and take notice. In the municipality of Oerlingen, backhoes have begun converting agricultural land into moorlands, as the “BauernZeitung” reports. This is part of a nature conservation project, where an existing conservation area is being expanded. To non-experts, this may sound like a positive development. However, the “BauernZeitung” criticized the loss of valuable farming land, equivalent to four soccer fields. A local farmer was skeptical of the project: “Every extensification effort here in Switzerland will make agriculture more intensive somewhere else in the world.” He really hit the nail on the head here: The world is connected. Even striving to protect nature can result in undesired consequences somewhere else in the world.

There is a clear trade-off. Driving north of Zurich, you can enjoy that there is more protected natural land. But it likely means that a natural oasis will have to be destroyed somewhere else. In addition, the loss of valuable farming land is not compatible with global population growth. If industrial countries reduce the amount of productive agricultural land, pressure will increase to expand farmland elsewhere. To be able to feed the growing world population, a massive amount of land will have to be converted to use for food production – and good farmland in the canton of Zurich is instead being removed from production.

Innovation offers a way out of the land dilemma. Agriculture must become more productive. And it cannot lose crop yields as a result of unfavorable weather to the same extent as the canton of Zurich did in the summer of 2021. That is one reason why pesticides will still be needed in the future. Even Swiss organic pioneer and agriculture researcher Urs Niggli views innovation as the only solution. It is clear to him that we need to make more productive use of existing land. This also means using gene editing. Climate change requires more robust varieties through precision breeding. Central Europe is becoming hotter and wetter. One example is more drought-resistant corn. Research and innovation are essential. They can help us overcome global and individual challenges in nearly every aspect of life. Without science-based production, the food supply and the supply of other necessities are at risk. Innovative processes designed to increase sustainability and resource efficiency throughout the food value chain are needed. A good example is the production of vanilla flavoring from plastic waste. The goal must be evidence-based and comprehensive sustainability: social, environmental and economic.

The basis for responsible decisions for a sustainable future involves a clear analysis of the situation and potential developments. The big picture has to be taken into account. It is also highly complex, however, and gaining an overview on a day-by-day basis can be difficult. Megatrends can help you get your bearings. They provide the guidelines for change. They are valuable navigational tools for categorizing and understanding the changes that are occurring. The Zukunftsinstitut (Future Institute) calls megatrends “avalanches in slow motion,” which is an apt image. Megatrends develop slowly, but they have an enormous impact on the economy and society. They determine what life will look like in the future.

Megatrends also affect the agricultural and food sectors. is now focusing on the megatrends in these areas. We are consciously creating a frame for the big picture. Because megatrends will shape the coming years – and decades – and initiate a paradigm shift, they serve as a guide for future activities for industry. And they show society the developments that need to considered when decisions are made in the present.

The platform recently relaunched with an expanded focus on the nutrition, production, processing and recycling of food. We continue to see ourselves as a knowledge platform, and fact-based information continues to be our goal. We are committed to comprehensive sustainability and strive to counter oversimplified narratives like “natural is good, artificial is bad.” The website aims to contribute to factual discussions and openly address conflicting goals in the future. It is intended to also correct misconceptions and point out blind spots. For example, we want to enable people to make informed decisions about the future regulation of gene editing, and we recently published a survey on the popular opinion on precise breeding methods that attracted a lot of attention. The acceptance of genome editing is high, once respondents were aware of the specific benefits in the context of global challenges, such as climate change. reflects the views of research-based industry. This requires research- and industry-friendly framework conditions in the long term. After all, innovation does not occur at the flip of a switch. The benefits provided by the research industry can only be fully felt if there is a reliable legal framework. And this is the only way for Switzerland to maintain – and even expand – its innovative capacity.

The swiss-food editorial team

The swiss-food platform provides information relating to agriculture and nutrition. It is committed to providing factual information and promoting large-scale sustainability.
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