Sustainability and Food & Agribusiness

The global food supply is the coming years a challenge given the increase of the world population and the economic growth and thereby the income per person to spend on food. The population will increase from the current 7.2 billion to around 9.5 billion in 2050. Food security and the availability of water are important issues. The growing wealth of humans means an increase of animal protein consumption – a more luxury consumption – and the need for animal feed. With the limited arable land, the urbanisation and a continuously growing world population, the available farmland per capita is expected to decrease dramatically.

The other dimension is that there is a need for alternative energy feedstocks given the limitations of fossil energy and the negative effect of this source of energy on our climate. There is an increasing demand for renewable energy and biofuels. Besides this there is climate change which will result in yield losses through adverse weather conditions. This also means that we need to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. The agri food industry can contribute to this needed reduction by a number of measurements in the areas of e.g. no further deforestation, improved animal production systems, soil management and food crops.

In general food and feed crops as well as renewable raw materials and fiber plants are competing for the limited arable land. It requires a more sustainable approach for the total food chain. The question is: What do we mean with sustainability? In the report of the commission Brundtland “Our common future” in 1987 the term has already been defined as “A sustainable development is a development that meets the need for the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” We as a society and the partners in the food chain have a responsibility for our next generation.

A sustainable food chain or enterprise contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social, and environmental benefits simultaneously – Profit, People and Planet. These 3 P’s gives partners in the food chain incentives not just on the economic value, but also on the environmental and social value that they add. On one side it is the responsibility of the food chain partners – the enterprises – and on the other side it is the demand of society and consumers. In general terms it should be market driven through consumers demand. They should make their choices on food products based on reliable information regarding the product and the way the product has been produced. Information about sustainability aspects of food products should be available on or with the product. It should be transparent.

It is the responsibility of the government to set the legal frame for a sustainable production for the partners in the food chain. It requires a clear understanding of the rules and the dynamics of the international trade policies. National food chain partners expect that their products are treated in a comparable way as the imported products. In other words the social and environmental specifications should be comparable or it should be transparent for the consumer how products are produced.

A large responsibility is with the agriculture food enterprises on the reduction of the environmental footprint and on increasing the social impact. National and/or global operating companies are taking more and more their responsibility in leading the process of a more sustainable food production. It also means transforming business concepts.

Sustainability is the ability to sustain!

This and other issues regarding the food and agri business will discussed in elective 903023 / 903028.


Prof. dr. ir. Siem Korver

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