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Food & agriculture insights

Sustainability in the global food and agriculture system

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The global population has more than doubled since the 1960s[i], increasing the demand for food and other agricultural products.  The agriculture sector has dramatically grown to meet this increasing demand over the last 60 years and today 50% of all habitable land is used for agriculture[ii].  Similarly, world fisheries and aquaculture production has increased by around 75% since the 1980s from 102 to 179 million tonnes per year[iii].


[i] UNDESA, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online edition. Rev. 1.

[ii] Ritchie, H. and Roser, M. (2019). ‘Land Use’. Our World in Data

[iii] FAO (2020). The state of world fisheries and aquaculture. Sustainability in action.

Global land use for food production


Adapted from Ritchie, H and Roser, M. (2013) “Land use”. Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource], March 2022. Data source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The challenge

Increasing demands on nature and people have led to social and environmental concerns that can affect businesses, with both issues climbing to the top of the global risk agenda over the last few years.


Sustainability is a key factor expected to continue driving consumer trends. For example, the global market for natural and organic cosmetics is forecast to grow by almost 50% to over 15.5 billion U.S. dollars by 2025[iv]. In addition, increased compliance requirements, such as the mandated disclosure of climate-related financial data for large companies in the UK from April 2022, mean that businesses need to fully understand the extent of their reliance and impacts on nature and people.


Businesses with this understanding are able to make more informed decisions, improving business security and resilience over time.

[iv] Statista (2022). Consumer Trends. A Statista trend report on the future of consumption.

Business drivers for understanding and addressing social and environmental issues include:

  • Mitigating risks from environmental or social disruption by fully understanding potential impacts and dependencies throughout the value chain.

  • Stakeholder pressure to set targets aligned with global climate targets, Science Based Targets and SDGs.

  • Identifying opportunities and remaining competitive as the market evolves.

  • Meeting investor and stakeholder demands by providing information on business impacts and dependencies.

  • Increasing regulation, new standards and compliance requirements.

  • Attracting and retaining talent by meeting employee expectations.

Impacts and dependencies

The continued functioning of the global food and agriculture system is dependent on the planet’s resources, a healthy natural environment (natural capital) and people (social & human capital). 

The rapid expansion of the global agriculture sector means that the industry has some of the largest impacts on natural and social capital through deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and employment through the supply chain. 

These impacts and dependencies are present throughout the agriculture value chain from the supply chain, through company operations to the use and final disposal of products (see the figure below).

Value chain example


How Little Blue Research can help

Little Blue Research works with businesses to understand their impacts and dependencies on nature and people to develop strategies that will protect and enhance company success through the delivery of our three service lines.


For more details on the food and agriculture industry download our sector briefing. Further information on our services can be found below.

Relevant case studies

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