This was the view of sustainability expert Jeremy Oppenheim speaking at a conference in Singapore where the challenges facing the food and agriculture industries were laid bare.
With a global population forecast to be 9.6bn by 2050, the total amount of food produced needs to increase by around 70%, the Building Sustainable Futures Forum heard.
“That requires a greater growth rate of food production than we have seen over the last 40 years, at a time when there are growing concerns about sustainability,” said Dr Andrew Steer, CEO of the World Resources Institute.
“However, for the first time in human history we objectives in the form of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and we now live in a world where behaving well can be monitored and rewarded.”
Oppenheim, programme director at the Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development, said it was the reward aspect of sustainability that could often be overlooked by industry.
The 17 SDG goals have over 160 targets, many of which have some impact on the food industry, from health, to waste and climate change.
But some, said Oppenheim, could provide significant potential for growth and additional market value.
“Reducing food waste, we estimate, could be worth $300-600bn a year of additional value for the agri-food industry by 2030,” he said. “Also, 795m people in the world are undernourished, but there are ways of entering those markets and we think it could add an extra $200bn of value a year.”
He added he was “under no illusion” about the difficulties of reformulating of products, but said it was a trend that was only going in one direction as people increasingly understood the link between what they eat and their health.
“If you are winner at this, it can lead to $300-400bn of more value each year,” he added.
“So don’t look at the Sustainable Development Goals and think it is just about getting beaten up again – although you might be – because there are opportunities to create new markets and win the race to the top. The prize is there.”
Overall he said there were opportunities for food and agriculture totaling $2 trillion of added value, and the potential to create 70m new jobs.
Hoonae Kim, APAC director at the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, said strong partnerships between the private and public sector would be vital to explore these opportunities and tackle the significant challenges ahead.
“We can’t do things alone. The world is connected and the public agencies must work with the private companies,” she said.
“I was astonished to hear that in 2040 there will still be 1bn hungry, but what is more shocking for me is that half of those will be in Asia.
“When you look at the rapidly developing economies, you say 'how is that possible'? We must work together to address this.”
The event also saw 36 leading agri-business companies launch the Global Agri-business Alliance.
The CEO-led private sector initiative seeks to contribute to the delivery of the SDGs by 2030, most notably SDG 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.