Intelligent World 2030: Food for Thought

ByGeorge Fahy

November 18, 2021

George Fahy

In our Intelligent World 2030 report, we discuss how technology will change almost every aspect of life, focusing on “8 Outlooks”. In post 3 of this series, we look at how technology will revolutionize food production.

Read the first two posts in this series here:

  1. 8 Outlooks for Intelligent World
  2. Intelligent World 2030: How Will You Experience Healthcare in the Future?

Nearly 690 million people are hungry today.

To put that into perspective, imagine if every person in the US were hungry. Now add to that everyone in Russia, Japan, and Germany and you’d be close. It’s a staggering figure and one that is likely to hit 840 million by 2030 if recent trends continue. That’s equivalent to adding everyone in the UK, France, Belgium, and Denmark to the previous figure.

The UN has made “Zero Hunger” one of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, aiming to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. But with increasing climate instability and urbanization accelerating around the world, traditional agricultural technologies and existing natural resources are no longer sufficient to meet this goal.

With the global population currently estimated to be 7.8 billion and likely to reach around 8.5 billion by 2030, the world’s food supply is facing new challenges and demands.

For centuries, farmers have relied on their experience to determine when to plant crops and when to harvest them, as well as whether to use fertilizers and pesticides. While this approach has served us well, it is ultimately up to fate whether any given year yields a good harvest.

So how can we align crops to the available soil conditions and eliminate this reliance on fate?

Technology is key to empowering agriculture, helping it overcome traditional growth constraints, increasing food production across the board, and bringing “green” food to every table around the world.

Data-Driven Precision Farming

Modern tools like sensors and mobile devices provide farmers with accurate, real-time data on soil moisture, ambient temperature, and crop conditions, making it possible to flexibly adjust agronomic measures — things like sowing, irrigation, fertilization, and seed adjustment — based on diverse data sets.

Through the in-depth analysis of collected data and cloud-based data graphs, farmers can make informed decisions about soil fertility, water, and nutrient delivery for crops. Empowered with this data, farmers can better understand their land, climate conditions, and crop diseases or pests to predict crop yields more accurately, implement agricultural measures, and adjust budgets accordingly.

An example of this is data-powered adaptive sowing, which can increase the yield of maize crops by 300–600 kg per hectare.

Farmers can also use this data as a basis for making proactive, quick, and precise responses to environmental changes. For example, it enables farmers to rapidly locate affected areas, develop solutions, and mitigate negative impacts on their yields in the event of extreme weather conditions.

Intelligent Vertical Farming

Intelligent indoor vertical farms allow farmers to build optimal environments for crop growth free of geographical constraints, overcoming the environmental uncertainties involved in traditional farming. Farmers can closely monitor every step of the cultivation process — from sowing, to fertilizing, to harvesting — so that they can precisely control lighting, temperature, water, and nutrient delivery based on the needs of each crop.

This “factory-like” approach to farming enables more data to be collected, which in turn provides a stronger foundation for achieving optimal growth conditions. Recent pilot programs have shown that an area of 7000 m² can yield a staggering 900,000 kg of vegetables every year if harvested every 16 days.

Recent pilot programs have shown that an area of 7000 m² can yield a staggering 900,000 kg of vegetables every year if harvested every 16 days.

Countries with little arable land, like Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, and those with abundant land resources, like the US, are proactively developing vertical farm technologies in the hopes of benefiting from the three main advantages of vertical farms:

  • No Pesticides or Soil, and Minimal Water Wastage

Hydroponics and aeroponics — common methods used in vertical farms — are more efficient at delivering nutrients to plants and recapture unused nutrients together with water. These methods use less than one tenth of the water used in traditional agriculture, making the entire process more eco-friendly.

  • Unaffected by Climate

Automatic control systems in indoor vertical farms help ensure reliable, large-scale cultivation, making it possible to grow crops in diverse locations and climates. For example, such farms can be built in the desert or sea, inside offices, or even on rooftops.

  • Globally Replicable Models

An ICT control system and data model used in one vertical farm can be used anywhere in the world to achieve similar results, allowing anyone to emulate the optimal environment for growing a certain type of crop.

3D-Printed Meat

Meat is an integral part of most culinary traditions. Yet raising livestock for food has negative environmental impacts, producing about 7.1 billion tons of CO2 every year. Raising livestock is also a major cause of methane emissions — a volatile and powerful greenhouse gas and the second-largest contributor to climate change.

As the global population grows, demand for meat is expected to increase 70% by 2050. Proactive solutions are therefore urgently needed to meet this demand.

As the global population grows, demand for meat is expected to increase 70% by 2050. Proactive solutions are therefore urgently needed to meet this demand.

3D-printed meat is one such solution. It can turn both plant proteins and animal cells into artificial meat. Specifically, 3D printing can use plant-based photoproteins to produce a fibrous material that mimics the texture of real meat, or it can stack nutrient elements made of real animal cells to create the musculature and fat layers of real meat.

This solution is already capable of creating many types of artificial meat, including pork, chicken, and beef. Recent applications of 3D printing technologies have delivered tasty and visually appealing artificial meat to consumers, with the price of artificial beef quickly approaching the market price of real beef.

Technology Building a Green and Tasty Future

The wider application of big data and AI, paired with agronomic expertise, will enable us to create science-based food systems that are resilient, sustainable, and green.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will allow us to monitor and analyze soil conditions and crop growth, and to increase yields based on collected data. By using historical data, we will also be able to predict environmental changes in order to proactively counteract risks that threaten yields.

Data-driven precision agriculture will allow farmers to water and fertilize crops precisely and to use drones to apply pesticides more accurately. Intelligent vertical farms will eliminate climate limitations from agricultural production and allow anyone to replicate cultivation models for more inclusive and green diets. And 3D printing will make it possible to create artificial meat based on taste and dietary requirements.

By 2030, we will be able to connect agricultural production factors — such as farmland, farm tools, and crops — and collect and utilize data on climate, soil, crops, and more to increase yield.

In a nutshell, technology will help feed the world.

Learn more about our predictions for food in Intelligent World 2030 and download the full Intelligent World 2030 report to check out what else the future has in store.

Further Reading

Read the first two posts in this series:


Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.

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George Fahy

Senior Technical Writer, Huawei

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