Even in fundamental industries such as agriculture, adapting to change is essential. Responding to the changing world is the only way to keep such sectors afloat and thriving. More insights from Farmer’s Weekly:

Agriculture is changing and so must agri economists | Photo: Dr Jack

Many agricultural economists believe that the world, including its agricultural sector, is moving from structural to fundamental change.

This will reshape value chains, business models, governments and employment, and affect the way we live and relate to one another.

As it is, farmers everywhere have already begun experiencing significant changes in markets, demand, food security, climate and technology.

Changing markets
Since about 2010, agricultural markets appear to have seen a reversal of trade liberalisation and openness. Adding to the uncertainty surrounding this trend are issues such as Brexit.

Here in South Africa, we don’t know what will happen with the SA/US AGOA agreement.

Will we see more protectionism in global agricultural trade? No-one knows, but time will tell.

Changing demand
A major topic worldwide has been population growth and how this will drive food demand. While previous projections assumed that the planet’s population would keep growing, it is
now expected to reach 11 billion by 2100 and stabilise.

Growing demand for agricultural products is also being driven by increasing personal incomes. Having more money results in a greater demand for food as well as a more varied diet.

Changing food security
Recent years have seen food security scares in certain parts of the world. These have largely been due to increasing food prices, with local populations protesting that food is becoming unaffordable. We have seen protests even here in South Africa.

Such protests could increase globally if issues of food security and affordability are not urgently and adequately addressed.

Changing climate
We are seeing more climate change-related natural disasters such as storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. The Western Cape, for example, is still in the grip of a crippling drought and has experienced major runaway fires as a result.

Changing technology
There are already a number of ‘disruptive technologies’ that are leading to what has been termed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. These include the Internet, 3D printing, advanced robotics, driverless tractors, new manufacturing materials, and genetic advancements.

Bioengineering has already created the first laboratory-manufactured hamburger patties. Could fruit and vegetables be next? In Japan, a fully automated, energy- and the water-efficient facility will soon produce 30 000 head of lettuce daily.

New technology is also one of the reasons agricultural employment around the world, and particularly in developed countries, is declining steadily. In South Africa, we are also experiencing this trend.

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