What might the future look like for farmers? To answer this question, a first step was made in the previous episode by learning and understanding the current farming landscape of 2020.
Now, let us investigate what some of the long-term drivers of change for farmers might be.
Outlining the reasons behind farmers’ approaches is essential to explore future developments of farming activity. In particular, relevant megatrends came from the European Commission's research on “Farmer of the Future”, which may have crucial implications on farming. Below these findings are described and categorised using a STEEP (Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic and Political) analysis.
- Inequalities. Although global disparities among countries decreased, gaps between the wealthiest and poorest in society rises. This leads to issues such as income disparities, gender inequalities, and barriers in accessing education, health care and technology. Consequently, farming is impacted by this through the form of social cohesion, which affects community lifestyle and through consumer trust, which in turn influences food choices.
- Migration. This phenomenon has a positive impact on the economic and social sphere, nevertheless current levels and structure of migration are considered unsustainable. Migration is then perceived as a social and political concern causing anxiety and political conflicts. For farming, migration leads to changes in urban and rural populations, as well as in workforce availability.
- Growing consumption. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) predicts, global population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. Additionally, the level of people with purchasing power will grow exponentially, especially in Asia. Where an expansion in growth of the middle-class and a consequent increase of consumer demand for food, water, and energy is foreseen. Farming will have to deal with a wider request for animal protein and processed foods, as well as volatile food consumption, due to the constant diversification of lifestyles and diets.
- Demography. Not only is global population expected to increase, but also to get older and more urban. In particular, changes will be deeper in developing countries, while almost inconsistent in developed ones. An ageing population could affect the generational shift of farmers and the availability of dedicated workforce.
- Health. Scientific advancement improves living standards, ensuring longer and healthier lives. Though, unhealthy lifestyles, increasing pollution, as well as the tendency to rely on reactive medicine, rather than preventative ones, increase the burden of non-communicable diseases. Farming could then be threatened by unhealthy diets and the use of antibiotics, which should be regulated via food policies.
- Urbanization. Especially in Asia and Africa, where cities are expected to host 60% of the population by 2030. As a consequence of this phenomenon, there will likely be developments like urban agriculture, depopulation of rural areas, or the consideration of farming to be connected to leisure and tourism, all these affect both agriculture and the stability of land assets.
- Technology & hyperconnectivity. Developments in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics speed up scientific discoveries, while revolutionizing production and management.
Hyperconnectivity, Internet of Things (IT Connectivity), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) allow farmers access to:
- Precision farming.
- Bioeconomy-based products.
- Innovative breeding technologies.
- Indoor cultivation.
- New methods of finance, such as crowdfunding.
- Changing nature of work, education & learning. Digitalization, technology, and automation will substitute routine, requiring new skills, while changing educational approaches. The increasing availability of material and the focus on lifelong learning have the potential to diversify access to education, enhancing the importance of informal learning. Accordingly, farmers could more easily broaden their knowledge on farming, technology, and real-time information. On the other hand, customers may be able to gain insight on food, too, through a “Do-It-Yourself” approach. This access to information and data could imply consumer demand for transparency, as well as ethical considerations for farming and food.
Environmental megatrends: harsher climate & resource scarcity
Persistent pollution and greenhouse gases along with overexploitation of natural resources, due to the increasing purchasing power, cause both global warming and several cases of environmental degradation, like ocean acidification and desertification.
Farming could be dramatically affected by these potential implications, in particular harsher weather conditions, the spreading of transboundary pests and biodiversity decline. With this in mind, the single possible solution to reverse the trend, preserving land, soil and clean water, could be developing concrete and reliable approaches focused on bio-based materials.
Economic megatrends: shift towards East & South
The ongoing economic shift toward the Eastern and Southern countries of the world contributes to globalization and trade liberalization, potentially useful for the consolidation of the agri-food sector and the increase of investments in agriculture.
Political megatrends: security paradigm
The emerging security paradigm is threatened by extremism, conflicts, and lack of organization. These factors hinder the defence to society and might reflect on farming systems, causing new crises, like competition, and difficulties to access resources.
After detecting the current farming landscape, along with the factors affecting it and their potential impacts on its long-term development, we have all the material to further explore the future of farmers. So, be sure to not miss our next blog episode to discover some of the farmer profiles of 2040!