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Scientists Call for Research into Sustainable Agriculture

Food is a problem for the world in the future for three main reasons. Firstly, the growth in population; secondly, the change in diet of a significant part of the population as they become wealthier and; thirdly, climate change which is likley to disrupt farming and productivity worldwide. But despite this it has not yet taken centre stage in world debate. Jeremy Grantham sees mass starvation as a distinct possibility in the future at the same time as Bill Gates sees this issue going off the table of world leaders.

Scientists call for further agricultural research

Picture via Flickr

A group of international influential scientists, led by Sir John Beddington, have written an article in Science magazine calling for scientists to produce more research around agriculture and climate change in the hopes that the next Climate Conference, in Qatar in November, will be informed by scientific evidence. One of the solutions being called for is “climate smart” agriculture, which includes both increasing the defence against adverse weather conditions and also increasing the carbon capture potential of agricultural land. If there was a carbon offsetting programme in place, then high polluting companies could end up funding these climate-smart procedures, and increasing revenues for small farms.

Potential solutions to food scarcity

There are also other, less conventional methods that are under consideration for the food plans of the future. In an article from the Observer, John Vidal highlights the potential for making use of algae for oil, to replace ethanol crops which will leave more room for traditional crops. This is seen as such a good solution because algae can also be used as a fertiliser or as animal feed. The article also pointed out that many insects are edible, and could play an important role in the future for food.

There have also been recent reports of the potential production of artificial meats made from stem cells, this would lead to much lower emissions, up to 96% less than keeping livestock. Research is being made into this area, with the first burger predicted to be made this way in 2012.

Impact on Agriculture Investing

Although some of these sound like radical solutions for the distant future, the problem is closer than you may think. In Bill Gates’ annual letter he notes the decrease in political interest in the issue of famine, the lack of money going into agricultural research and the problems this is causing in the developing world. This letter, the article in Science magazine, and many other initiatives, have hopes to reverse this trend, and see agriculture become more efficient, productive and resilient to climate change.

This demonstrates the continued potential of agriculture as a place for longer term investment - companies involved in making agricultural practices more efficient. However investors need to be careful as James Leaton points out in his article about 'Stranded Assets'. It is not a one way bet.

Fund context:

Many of the funds in the Worldwise Investor Agriculture Theme are invested in companies associated with the issues in this article. Pictet Agriculture for example invests in companies providing fertilisers, machinery, seeds, origination, transportation and processing.

There are also funds that invest in these kinds of companies, together with others from other themes. An example of this is Schroder Global Climate Change which invests in Environmental Resources, including agricultural efficiency companies, but also Sustainable Transport, Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency.

Related funds:

Pictet Agriculture
Schroder Global Climate Change

Useful links:

Mark Hoskin Blog: Long term economic forecasts are flawed

Worldwise Investor: Business as usual not Good Enough for Sustainable Agriculture

The Gates Foundation: Annual Letter 2012

The Guardian: The future of food

Yale 360: Can ‘Climate-Smart’ Agriculture Help Both Africa and the Planet?

Huffington Post: Artificial Meat 6 Months Away, Hamburger In A Year, Say Scientists

The Economist: The 9 billion people question

Science Daily: Food Security Road Map While Adapting to Climate Change

Bloomberg: Food Waste Denounced by Ministers as Almost 1 Billion Go Hungry

Tags: Agriculture |

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Louise Fallonall articles

Louise Fallon starting working for Worldwise Investor as an intern over the summer and has written a number of articles during that time.

Louise is studying for a degree in Mathematics and Economics BSc at London School of Economics and Political Science, and graduates next summer.

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