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Megatrends for this decade – II

Increase in yield in cereal production against a stable use of land. Image credit: WorldData
  1. Global Abundance

Although we usually hear dark predictions on shortage of food for a world population that keeps increasing, production data tell a different story. As shown in the graphics productions is actually improving faster than the population growth (this is for cereals, it is true for several other areas, with the exception of fishing and cattle). The big issue is related to climate change and to the transportation of products to the point of consumption.

Map showing the effect of a 1 m sea rise in Bangladesh, something that might happen by 2030. Notice that the impact is not contained to the sea rise (permanent flooded area) but also by the inundation cause by increased storm surge (monsoon and typhoons). The blue area is today a living place for 15 million people and a very fertile area. Image credit: UNEP/GRID-Arendal

Climate change may lead to sea level rising, the flooding of areas densely populated as well as agricultural areas that produce a significant amount of food. At the same time, the rise in temperature can turn areas that are not suitable for crops today into areas that can be yield good harvest. Notice that the shift, if it were to happen, would create huge problems as people will have to move from one place to another, the current flow of immigration is nothing in comparison to what may happen if sea rise becomes significant. An example is given in the figure. More examples can be found here


Transportation of products is also another huge hurdle. It doesn’t help that we have abundant crop in certain area if we are not able to distribute the surplus in areas that are experiencing food shortage. Sub-Saharian Africa is a point in case.

Logistic chains have become very effective, actually this is one of the main significant evolution in the past fifty years, and for sure one that has changed the well being of people as well as the distribution of work (off-shoring is totally dependent on the efficiency of the logistic infrastructure). Yet, reaching certain areas in an effective way (low cost, short time) remains a challenge and it may remain so in the foreseeable future.

This is why alternative, complementary solutions are needed, like moving crops closer to the consumer market. I’ll address this in a following post.

Peter Diamandis, in his interesting blog, placed at he top of his megatrends list the reduction of poverty as an indicator of the growing global abundance of resources but I feel that affordable food availability (and water) is at the core of the reduction of extreme poverty, that is why I started this discussion on Global abundance from the availability of food: this is one of the basic needs we face, along with availability of fresh, clean water, a topic I will address in conjunction to energy availability.

Graphic showing the decrease of extreme poverty, defined as living with less than 1$ a day per person. Significan progress have been made over the last 30 years worldwide with the exception of sub-Saharian Africa where the situation has actually worsened. Image credit: World Data base. Graphic rendering by Our World in Data

I do agree, of course, with him that the reduction of extreme poverty is a very important indicator.

As shown in the figure the progress made in the last 30 years has been significant but the expectation is not rosy for this decade, since the big sub-Saharian area is not expected to show significant progress. One of the reason is the difficulty of having effective logistic chains there, the economic crises and the political situation in the region (these three factors go hand in hand and a solution can only come by addressing all of them in synch).

Apart from this (big problem) the expectation is that global abundance will be reflected by a generalised improvement of life and wellbeing in most parts of the world with more and more people having access to better food, clean water, better education and increased economic possibilities (that in turns will fuel the market, as noted in the previous post forecasting the rapid uptake of E7).

Interestingly. Peter attributes this overall increase to:

  • low cost communications, a trend we have already seen in the past decade, with affordable cell phones (now you can get a smartphone with a 6.5″ screen in India for 85$, a brand new Nokia cell phone goes for 10$) and very low internet rate (in India the current lowest plan gives you 2GB of data an unlimited calls for 1.4$ for four weeks!);
  • ubiquitous AI through the cloud, lowering the cost of AI (we are already seeing AI on-demand services that will be fuelling more and more applications in this decade -AIaaS: AI as a Service). Ubiquitous Internet access will bring AI within reach of every person in the world (a topic we will be addressing in 2021 in the DRI – Digital Reality Initiative);
  • access to higher education and better healthcare leveraging on tele-services and on AI in the cloud. This dramatically lowers cost making advanced high quality service available to people all over the world;
  • the Digital Transformation that by moving activities and value to the cyberspace makes everything more affordable and easier to reach by anybody, More than data: affordability plays both on the consumer as on the production/offer side. This creates a virtuous cycle of continuous, rapid, innovation and a continuous lowering of price that in turns fuels demand and adoption as described in the “just published” Digital Transformation White Paper by DRI.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.