We look at the industry we should be encouraging our students to get into. People can live without a smartphone, but can’t live without food.
There is a scene from the original Superman film in which Lex Luthor unfolds his plot to outwit the world with his evil scheme.
The line goes “…stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse. People are no damn good, but they will always need land and they will pay through the nose to get it…”
He was, in part, right.
The great issue for the future may well be land. By the year 2100, the earth’s population is expected to move past 11bn people. While all those people will need somewhere to live, the bigger issue will be that all those people will need food to eat.
That means more land for food production and more people to produce it. Last Thursday saw what is known as ‘Earth Overshoot Day’. It is the day in the year in which, according to estimates, ‘the total combined consumption of all human activity on Earth in a year overtakes the planet’s ability to generate those resources for that year’. We’re consuming more than we can produce.
In 1970, that overshoot was as it should be, near the end of the year, on December 23. However that timeline has crept forward since then. On August 13, this year we passed that point four days earlier than in 2014.
In the past decade, and more in the past five years, we have put technology at the forefront of our children’s future. Coding and software have been the prevalent ideas of our time. The Internet of Things moves ever closer on our horizon and we are driven by technology.
However, in increasing values, we see that our consumption is pushing technologies to produce leaner and smarter ways of food production. Industries that use the by-products of food industry continue to grow. Our insatiable love of food is producing more efficient ways of using water or using gases expelled by livestock to produce energy.
The jobs of the future will certainly be with technology, but even programmers need to eat. Developing countries are seeing their middle and richer classes grow and appetite grows with that. In the past decade China and India have seen faster growth in middle classes and millionaires than most other countries. The two countries with the largest populations have growing palates. They want to taste the world.
Food is where the jobs of the future lie. Its growth, its production, its sale and its consumption will need the best and brightest to get the most out of it. For that, the industry needs big thinkers. We’ll need the graduates to fill the demand. Agriculture, horticulture, marine studies, and plant science will be the high demand jobs of the future.
Whether we like it or not, genetically-modified food is part of our food future. Plants and vegetables that can live on less water or in low-temperature climates will be a necessity of the coming decades.
We have, in a few short years, laid the groundwork for this growth. Ireland continues to be a world leader in food production. Of course, this will bring its own challenges as well. The questionable ethics of companies such as Monsanto will need careful attention. The business of food will need legislation to keep it safe. They say nothing drives technology like war. Our consumption has declared war on food and — right now — we are losing that war.