“Megatrends are big shifts in the environment – gradual yet powerful trajectories of change that have the potential to throw companies, individuals and societies into ‘freefall’,” warns Dr Hajkowicz, Principal Research Scientist within CSIRO’s Digital Productivity division and author of Global Megatrends: Seven Patterns of Change Shaping Our Future (CSIRO Publishing, May 2015).
“Moments of freefall will happen to you, your company, your society and the world. That’s assured. It’s not whether change will happen that matters, but when and how you respond.”
7 MEGATRENDS THAT WILL SHAPE THE NEXT 20 YEARS
In the book, Dr Hajkowicz identifies seven major patterns or ‘megatrends’ that will shape the next two decades, impacting all business sectors including agriculture:
- More from less – rising demand for limited natural resources and scarcity of these resources;
- Going, going... gone? – an increasingly narrow window of opportunity in which to help protect biodiversity, habitats and the world’s climate;
- The Silk Highway – rapid urbanisation and economic growth across Asia and the developing world;
- Forever young – an ageing population with changed retirement patterns, greater prevalence of chronic illness and rising expenditure on healthcare;
- Virtually here – the reshaping of retail and office precincts, city design and function, and labour markets as a result of increasingly powerful digital technology;
- Great expectations – changing consumer expectations regarding the provision and quality of services, experiences and social interaction; and
- An imperative to innovate – accelerating technological advancement that’s creating new markets and extinguishing existing ones.
The book draws on hundreds of reports and peer-reviewed references, capturing the thinking of numerous scientists and researchers to provide a guide to the probable future for government bodies, researchers and businesses – including agri-businesses.
Forewarned is forearmed: get busy before that future arrives.
WHAT FARMERS CAN DO NOW TO PREPARE FOR CHANGE
1. Find sustainable ways to produce more for less
“There’s no two ways about it – the world is going to want a lot more food by 2035 than it does today,” says Dr Hajkowicz, “According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it’s a 70 percent increase by 2050.” It’s not just about population blow-outs; we’re also consuming more per head. “Our growing population is increasing [its] average daily per-capita calorie consumption rates,” he says. All of which spells major food shortage, with demand set to well outstrip supply. Producers positioned to deliver food cost-effectively, without depleting the resources on which further production depends, stand to profit in coming decades.
2. Protect what’s on your land – before it’s gone
As Dr Hajkowicz stresses in his book, the window of opportunity in which to help protect biodiversity, habitats and the world’s climate is closing fast. Every day, somewhere on the planet, another potentially crucial plant, animal or insect disappears forever, largely thanks to habitat loss. Extreme weather and climatic events – droughts, floods and fires – cause untold damage to crops, livestock and those that produce them, depleting once-fertile soils and water resources. Overgrazing and intensive cropping can lead to further depletion. Plagues of insects and rodents consume entire grain-fields, rain down on farmlands and undermine soil.
Farmers can do their bit for the planet while improving their bottom lines – by avoiding overplanting and overgrazing; planting suitable indigenous vegetation as groundcover, grazing fodder and soil nitrogen-replenishing rotational crops (in the process improving soil quality and helping biodiversity and the environment); implementing sustainable farming methods and technology; and considering renewable energy options.
Ramping up sustainability may have flow-on benefits, too: improved productivity; less need for costly, environmentally harmful pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers; and more variety in output.
3. Ride the Silk Highway to new markets
Not only are we consuming more food globally; our tastes are changing, says Dr Hajkowicz. Increasing cross-cultural mobility and the rise of Asia’s middle and wealthy classes are bringing new food demands and opening new markets. “Diets are also diversifying,” he notes, “as people across Asia increase their intake of meat, fish, dairy, fruits and vegetables.” Which means that in coming years, what the book terms the ‘Silk Highway’ will be littered with opportunities for Australia’s produce farmers, packers, processors and exporters, as Asia’s better-heeled consumers demand a greater diversity of clean, high-quality produce.
4. Produce nutritionally enhanced products to keep consumers ‘forever young’
Our world’s ageing population means a greater prevalence of chronic illness and rising expenditure on healthcare – which means opportunities for Australian researchers, farmers and processors to join forces in producing potentially lucrative nutriceuticals and ‘biofortified’ foods – high-fibre grains, nutritionally boosted almonds, plant-based indigenous treatments and traditional Chinese medicines.
5. Use digital technology to connect, globally and locally
The widescale reshaping of business on the back of tech-enabled solutions such as mobile offices, smart devices, virtual services and automation applies to agribusinesses too – especially given the remote locations of many farming operations. Increasingly powerful digital technology can be used in numerous ways to help farms save time, money and resources. It is also an increasingly crucial tool for connecting with others in the industry, including fellow farmers, suppliers and service providers and potential consumers, in Australia and around the world.
With the NBN rollout, farmers will have the digital wherewithal to make their products and their presence felt across the planet.
6. Cater to consumers' great expectations to beat the competition
“Supplying the global food demand represents a huge opportunity for farmers and agribusiness,” says Dr Hajkowicz. “The challenge is there will be lots of other suppliers: Latin America, Africa and Asia are all great food producers. Where the opportunity for Australia might lie [is] via secure and reliable supply chains providing regular, high-quality product.”
As people become more concerned about food safety and quality, they're more prepared to pay a premium for foods and beverages that are guaranteed fresh, safe and top-grade. “Food consumers of the future will be increasingly interested in where the contents of their shopping trolley came from,’ Dr Hajkowicz notes. “An increasingly large market share will be won by proving provenance.”
Thanks to our comparatively clean environment, tightly regulated food industry, stringent biosecurity controls and reliable supply chains, Australian foods and beverages are well regarded overseas, widely considered to be among the world’s ‘cleanest and greenest’. So Aussie producers and processors are in an excellent position to profit from this trend. Provided our products continue to meet consumer expectations, we should be able to command higher prices in lucrative markets worldwide.
7. Think smarter, not harder: make innovation your new best friend
Successfully weathering changes such as these megatrends herald, says Dr Hajkowicz, means generating new, improved solutions. “These megatrends all point towards … an innovation imperative,” he says. “The astounding rate of innovation we see in battery technology, in regenerative medicine, and informatics and other fields … [is] transforming the way we do business. The only way of riding these waves in and getting a better outcome is via ideas and innovation to a much deeper level than we’ve had before.”
So whether it’s robotic crop-harvesters, sensor technology that monitors soil, crops, pasture, livestock, machinery and environmental conditions, cutting-edge sorting and grading machines, on-farm solar PV arrays or novel wind turbines, new sheep-handling equipment, smart apps, 21st-century supply chain logistics, or marketing your business in the digital realm, succeeding in farming’s streamlined, sustainable near-future means embracing innovation.
Do your research, do your sums, then boldly go where few have gone before – even if you have to dodge a few cowpats to get there.
Dr Stefan Hajkowicz is an expert in foresight, which uses economics, geography and decision theory to plan for an uncertain future. He is principal scientist at CSIRO, Australia’s national scientific research agency, in Brisbane, Australia.