October 17, 2022

Exceptional times will become the norm

In an exclusive interview with SIAL Daily, Philippe Mauguin, President and General Manager of INRAE (French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment), partner of this year’s SIAL Future Lab, shares his vision for the future of food

While the industry is facing major challenges, there are a number of levers to pull on. The necessary transformation can only be achieved if everyone takes action together, Mr Mauguin urges.

What are the biggest challenges facing the agriculture and agri-food sectors today?
The challenges are enormous. On the one hand, feeding a growing world population, with numbers expected to reach nine to ten billion people on earth by 2050. And doing this within the context of climate change, which is accelerating and therefore increasingly complicating the lives of farmers. Today, we are already seeing more extreme climatic cycles repeat themselves and undermine agricultural production. At the same time, the amount of productive land in the world, as well as here in France, is being chipped away through urbanisation. On top of overcoming these challenges, we must meet the increasingly high expectations of citizens, consumers and public bodies. Today consumers are more concerned about the naturalness or health implications of products, for example whether they were produced using fertilizers and pesticides, or additives and preservatives for the agri-food sector. Reducing fertilizers and pesticides however is challenging for producers looking to protect their crops against diseases and insects, which are in turn becoming more problematic through climate change. There are also expectations being placed on the animal farming segment, with consumers demanding more respectful production processes. So we have to face all of these challenges at once.  

How has the past year presented itself in terms of climate?
This year has been an exceptional year, as it is among the hottest years on record, with the highest impact on our resources. But unfortunately this type of climate is likely to become far less exceptional in the future. What scientists from around the world are saying, is that these exceptional climatic events are becoming increasingly frequent. However, this does not mean we will only experience heat waves during the summer months putting pressure on our water reserves. We will also experience, like in 2021, more humid spring and summer seasons, which pose different problems for harvests in terms of diseases for example. So we are going to face more extreme climatic conditions. We are living through an exception which will become the norm.

Transforming the sector can only be achieved if everyone – businesses, producers, researchers, consumers and the public sector take action together

What levers can the industry activate to overcome these challenges?
Obviously there is no simple recipe. For starters, we must fight against agricultural and food waste. Today, around 30% of food products are wasted, mainly in developing countries towards the end of the supply chain. The solution will involve logistics companies, distributors and consumers, which is complicated, but there is room for maneuver. At the same time less developed regions around 30% of harvests are lost due to poor infrastructure and storage. The second leverage is the evolution of people’s diets. Because if everyone on earth consumes as much meat in 2050 as the US and many parts of Europe do today, we will exceed our production capacity, even with innovation. Of course there are large disparities in the consumption of animal and plant based proteins between countries, so these will have to be rebalanced according to the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, which to make it simple is getting 50% of your protein from plants and 50% from animals. Finally, we need to reduce our carbon footprint while maintaining levels of production. This is increasingly possible through innovation and research, from genetics to crop diversification.

How can INRAE help with this transition?
We have a high level of responsibility towards the scientific community here in France and around the world. We produce new insights through conducting scientific research on a wide range of relevant topics. For example, how can we predict the climate of 2050 across different French regions and what impact will this have on harvests, including wheat, sunflowers, vegetables, fruits and vineyards, and also how will it affect animal farming. We cover an extremely wide range of topics, from microbiology and ecology to genetics and robotics. We mobilise these tools to better understand the evolution of climate change, bio-diversity and the impact of food on people’s health. In this sense, we produce information and innovations to support the transition. Our second function is making sure this information has a real impact. We do this through private partnerships, education and shaping national and international policy. This is key to overcoming the challenges of tomorrow because pulling these levers and transforming the sector can only be achieved if everyone – businesses, producers, researchers, consumers and the public sector take action together.  

Future Lab : Dive right into the future food trends of 2030

An immersion in the heart of food trends on the horizon for 2030
Future Lab – partnering with INRAE and Accenture – invites the visitors of SIAL Paris 2022 to travel to the future and discover the food industry of 2030. This forward-looking, high-impact, immersive experience addresses the major trends in the decade to come, from the earth to the table. The activities focus on 3 topics: Agriculture 2030, Retail 2030 and Dining 2030.