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Gro Intelligence’s CEO on Feeding the World and Protecting the Planet

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“Permacrisis” — the Collins Dictionary’s word of the year for 2022 — describes the feeling of living in an extended period of instability and insecurity, making it an apt description of the current global food insecurity crisis and the ongoing global climate emergency. 

During a panel discussion titled, “Fields of Opportunity: Feeding the World, Protecting the Planet,” Gro Intelligence’s CEO Sara Menker discussed the structural demand-side changes and supply-side shocks that the world has been grappling with since early 2020 and how these disruptions are exposing the fragility of the global food system.  

“Ultimately, the scale of the challenge can't be tackled by a few; it needs real collective action and a lot of money, which will only come if the people controlling the money pay attention to these problems,” Menker said at the event, hosted by Bayer. 

The private sector is not in a position to deal with large structural disruptions on its own, it needs to work with the public sector to find solutions. “Still, to fund these challenges, we also need the capital markets to step up in a way they haven't previously,” Menker said. 

Gro’s Global Fertilizer Impact Monitor is one example of the private and public sectors working together to address food security. This summer, Gro launched the Global Fertilizer Impact Monitor with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and in partnership with the International Fertilizer Association (IFA), an association which represents providers of plant nutrition solutions, and CRU Group (CRU), a leading independent authority on fertilizer. The Monitor is designed to help quantify the potential outcomes of the worldwide fertilizer crisis and provides data on how the war in Ukraine may play out.

“When we did that analysis, we open-sourced it and partnered with the Gates Foundation; this is a perfect example of the private industry and the public sector coming together, and developing a tool for the world to understand [the risks we face],” Menker added. 

Collaboration across industries is also essential. “Energy security is food security, and food security is energy security. And we don’t seem to be faring well on either front,” she added. 

Globally, energy prices and food prices have surged and remain elevated. In the US, for example, food prices for a basket of staple items have risen around 75% since 2020. In Norway, that increase is 102%; in Sudan, it's almost 1,901%; and in Syria, it's 701%.

“Nobody is immune,” Menker noted. Against this backdrop, the most significant risk on the food security side is fertilizer, she added. 

“Going into the winter, we are facing a potash problem, a phosphate problem, and a nitrogen problem, and we've never really dealt with a situation at this scale,” Menker said. 

From a risk standpoint, Menker said that she is worried about production and productivity going into 2023 and 2024. Places like the US and Brazil will manage, but places like sub-Saharan Africa will be affected, she added. “When you go from already low to zero — which is where we’re headed in regions where yields and application rates are already on the decline — it’s worrisome.” 

The corrective nature of crises should not be overlooked, however. “Food systems are now top of mind for every world leader. We need to use this as an opportunity to ensure that we are driving our focus toward long-term changes so that we are not back in this position a decade from now,” Menker said. 

As governments, humanitarian organizations, and businesses across the agricultural supply chain try to adapt to these current realities, they need timely and transparent data. “Data information is a bridge to understanding and building trust,” Menker said, noting that the Gro Platform is built to provide this data and help our customers make more informed decisions.

To read a transcript of the panel discussion, click here

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