A Sustainable Food Future 2017: Technology, resource use and resilience – Chatham House

It’s that time of the year again! Next week I will be attending the 2017 A Sustainable Food Future conference organised by one of the world’s top think tanks: Chatham House.

In this post I will explore the 2017 A Sustainable Food Future agenda because I want to find out what this year’s main focus is, in order to help you better prepare for the conference or give you context if you’ll be following the event on Twitter with the hashtag #CHFood.

So this year’s three main themes are technology, resource use and resilience and they’ll be discussed in six sessions. All themes are to some degree interwoven into each session but from reading the agenda it seems that each session will focus more on a specific theme.

The first session is ‘Food and geopolitics’ and it will mainly focus on the resilience aspect by, as an example, analysing tensions between major global food traders and looking at conflict as a source of food insecurity.

‘Producing more with less’, the second session, as the name suggests, is about resource use and looking at land, soil, water and energy constraints.

The third session is ‘Understanding risk and building resilience in the food system’. This session will focus on analysing macro factors that can increase vulnerability in the food system such as climate change and infrastructure.

The fourth session, ‘Changing diets and patterns of food consumption’, addresses my favourite food system question of all times:

  • To what extent can the price of food accurately reflect the externalities of its environmental impact and health costs?

Even though the answer to this question in most cases is a resounding NO! I love trying to understand why? How big is the gap between the current price and real price and what do we need to do so food prices do reflect the full costs of externalities.

I’m an avid participator but expect me to be raising my hand a bit more during this fourth session.

During ‘Innovation and technology in food production’, the fifth session, we’ll focus on technology and how can it help increase resilience using the resources that we already have. This is critical given that today, countries like Switzerland use resources equivalent to three Switzerlands. Something needs to change.

The final session ‘Changing trade agendas and food security’ we’ll look at the global trade trends: are we opening up or closing up and how will this impact food security?

That’s it for now! See you in exactly one week at Chatham House.

Many thanks to Chatham House’s Kamil Hussain, Head of Conferences, and Louisa Troughton, Conference Organiser.



Anyone with an interest in agricultural tech startups will find this session, golden

#CHFoodFuture warmup – session 4

Burning questions on global food security will be addressed next week at the conference A Sustainable Future: production supply and consumption at Chatham House, London. The entire event is divided into five sessions and each could be a conference in itself. It’s important to warmup and enter the right mindset before the event begins next Monday 7th December 2015. To help do that, each day this week I will post an entry discussing each session. Click here to read session 3: Should there be more agricultural scientists and less food marketers?

Session 4 – Mobilizing Food Research, Development and Finance

The five questions discussed in the session are:

  1. What can be done to support technological developments with the potential to revolutionize global food systems?
  2. What are the barriers to scaling up to existing technologies? How might these areas be overcome within Europe as well as in developing countries?
  3. How can the private sector be incentivised to invest in the development of other agribusiness?
  4. How can international cooperation be encouraged to increase investment in the food system including in technological advancements?
  5. To what extent can unconventional protein sources (including plant-based protein, algae and lab-grown meat) and genetically modified crops and animal products contribute to more sustainable, more nutritious and fairer consumption patterns?

Used with permission from Lisa Delgado Castillo

Sensors, precision harvesters and mowers, drones, herbicides and weeding compositions, GMO seeds, polymeric compositions, planting methods for vegetables and fruits, aquaponics, hydroponics, corn varieties and hybrids, are just a few of the agriculture patents registered worldwide between 2010 and 2014 according to the Crop Farming 2030 report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). According to the BCG report,in the last five years patents were registered as follows:

  • Crop protection: 6,815
  • Precision and conventional equipment: 5,337 patents
  • Seeds: 2,407
  • Fertilizers: 987

Amongst those categories, patent distribution per category amongst regions was:

  • Crop protection: Europe (35%), North America (35%), China (23%), and elsewhere (7%)
  • Precision and conventional equipment: North America (70%), Europe (15%), China (8%), and elsewhere (7%)
  • Seeds: North America (78%), Europe (19%), China (2%), and elsewhere (1%)
  • Fertilisers: North America (28%), Europe (4%), China (53%), and elsewhere (15%)

Immediately, several questions come to mind: why are seed patents overwhelmingly recorded in North America? What are the implications for the rest of the world, in particular, for smallholder farmers who constitute 98% of global farms? Overall, Africa and Latin America have a small role in patent registration. These two regions also have high rates of family farming: 97% in Africa and 82% in South America (source). Does this matter? What can we say about low patent registration in countries with very high percentages of family farming?

Used with permission by Lisa Delgado Castillo


Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College London and Chair, Montpellier Panel


  • Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, European Commission
  • George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment, UK
  • Frank Rijsberman, Chief Executive Officer, CGIAR Consortium
  • Rob Bertram, Chief Scientist, USAID Bureau for Food Security
  • Nick von Westenholz, CEO, Crop Protection Association