Agriculture and food production – Challenges of our Era

The ​problems ​facing ​the world’s ​most ​vulnerable farmers ​are ​the ​barriers ​to tackling ​hunger, ​poverty ​and sustainability, but what can we do about it?

The ​answer ​is ​to ​innovate agriculture, ​and ​grow resilience ​within ​poor communities ​from ​the ​bottom up and we want to develop a challenge prize around this. 


The ​problems ​facing ​the world’s ​most ​vulnerable farmers ​are ​the ​barriers ​to tackling ​hunger, ​poverty ​and sustainability.

Besides ​productivity, ​growing resilience ​in ​agriculture ​is ​a larger ​issue ​of ​food ​quality, closed-loop ​food ​systems, accessing ​resources ​and even ​women’s ​rights. Let’s ​think ​radically ​about how ​to ​free ​people ​of ​hunger and ​poverty ​through ​green agricultural ​innovation.

Food ​has ​a ​transformative ​power

Agriculture ​is ​the ​engine ​of ​growth ​and hunger ​reduction ​in ​low ​and ​middle income ​countries ​(LMICs). ​Working ​to eliminate ​hunger ​fights ​poverty ​and realises ​people’s ​potential ​through ​work and ​education. ​

Consequently, ​food ​is ​the fundamental ​resource ​to ​build ​resilient communities. ​

The ​World ​Bank ​states ​that agricultural ​growth ​will ​have ​2-4 ​times higher ​poverty ​alleviation ​power ​than non-agricultural ​growth.

Food ​demand ​is ​growing

One ​out ​of ​nine ​of ​the ​7.5 ​billion ​people around ​the ​world ​is ​malnourished. ​By 2025 ​there ​will ​one ​billion ​more ​of ​us. Regions ​that ​are ​at ​highest ​risk ​of ​food insecurity ​will ​experience ​the ​highest growth.

The ​world ​needs ​to ​be ​both ​fed ​and sustainable

We ​will ​need ​to ​address ​the ​growing ​need for ​food. ​Not ​only ​will ​quantity ​be important; ​cost-efficient ​protein ​sources will ​be ​in ​ever ​greater ​demand, ​to ​cater ​to the ​shifting ​appetites ​of ​the ​growing middle ​class. ​That ​puts ​more ​pressure ​to intensify ​and ​diversify ​food ​production ​by smallholders ​- ​the ​majority ​farmers ​in LMICs ​- ​and ​we ​need ​to ​make ​sure ​this ​is achieved ​sustainability.

Productivity ​and ​sustainability

The ​last ​half-century ​has ​seen ​a ​major increase ​in ​food ​production, ​mainly ​due ​to transformation ​of ​agricultural ​practices ​– the ​adoption ​of ​artificial ​fertilisers, pesticides, ​and ​high-yield ​crops ​– ​as ​part of ​the ​Green ​Revolution. However, ​greater ​intensification ​of agriculture ​brought ​with ​it ​unwanted environmental ​consequences.

​A ​push ​to produce ​more ​out ​of ​less ​has ​released carbon ​into ​the ​atmosphere, ​turned ​forests into ​barren ​land ​and ​cut ​biodiversity.

Coping ​with ​the ​future ​needs ​of ​people ought ​to ​be ​coupled ​with ​the ​needs ​of ​the planet ​as ​a ​whole.

Climate-smart ​agriculture

Climate ​change ​affects ​everyone ​but ​has greatest ​impact ​on ​poor ​economies. ​Over time, ​more ​people ​will ​become ​vulnerable as ​their ​livelihoods ​become ​unsustainable. Going ​forward, ​agricultural ​practices ​need to ​concentrate ​on ​closed-loop ​production systems ​that ​are ​not ​detrimental ​to ​the environment. ​This ​approach ​is ​a ​part ​of the ​climate-smart ​agriculture ​(CSA), ​which was ​first ​coined ​by ​FAO ​back ​in ​2010.

Efficiency ​isn’t ​everything

There ​is ​much ​more ​to ​improving ​global food ​yields ​than ​increasing ​production efficiency. In ​fact, ​food ​security ​is ​a ​value ​chain problem: ​we ​need ​to ​diversify ​our ​food sources, ​especially ​proteins; ​preventing waste ​could ​save ​a ​third ​of ​all ​food produced; ​urbanisation ​will ​further complicate ​market ​access.

Smallholders, ​women ​in ​particular, experience ​barriers ​in ​accessing:

  • resources ​and ​materials
  • information ​and ​training
  • credit ​for ​investment
  • land ​ownership
  • distribution ​channels
  • market ​access

Challenge Prizes

The ​Challenge ​Prize ​Centre ​at ​Nesta wants ​to ​bring ​forth ​new ​ideas ​of ​how ​the transformative ​power ​of ​food ​could ​fight systemic ​poverty ​and ​build ​economic ​and environmental ​resilience ​in ​the ​developing world. Prizes ​are ​powerful ​tools ​for ​incentivising the ​creation ​of ​long-term ​solutions ​to social ​challenges ​by ​stimulating ​new enterprise ​and ​endeavour.

Potential Key Challenges:

  1. Sustainable ​use ​of ​soil
  2. New ​sources ​of ​nutrition
  3. Improving ​smallholder ​outcomes
  4. Sustainable ​Food ​Systems


Help design this Prize at the Challenges of our Era Summit

Register your interest in our two-day debate and discussion shaping solutions around surgery, food and agriculture, and data technology taking place on Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 March 2018 in Milan, Italy.

See more about the event here.

Challenges Of Our Era Summit is about action, not talk. We want to change the world by radically improving access to key necessities of modern life. We think innovation is key to this. At the Summit, we will design new challenge initiatives that incentivise innovators to fix these global problems.

Our aim is to gather experts and specialist in the fields of interest such as policymakersacademic researchersfrontline professionals and innovatorstechnologists and funders. We would like you to be part of this change.



Register your interest

Learn about our upcoming Challenges of our Era Summit in Milan, discussing the future of this prize.