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Chicken or egg - can all countries industrialise in a sustainable way?

Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Is industry, innovation and infrastructure as a goal likely to lead us to a better future?

We have been looking at a macro level at different possible futures. Now we look in more detail at several Sustainable Development Goals which potentially have a very significant impact on the future.

SDG 9 proposes that industrialisation and technological progress is the basis for development and all countries should industrialise in a sustainable way.

In addition investment in infrastructure such as roads, electrical power and water are essential for growth in productivity and incomes and improving health and education outcomes.

SDG 9 agricultural case study

Traditionally agricultural production is not considered industrial. However, the overall food system is predominantly industrialised with high levels of technology, infrastructure requirements, global value chains and extreme tension between diverse visions of the future of food for an expanding global population.

Some of these tensions are around issues of food quality and food safety, animal welfare and the price of food and the rose-tinted-glasses view that animals graze in pastures and farmers pitchfork manure; the reality of chicken farming is an example of where reality and technology clash.

A current example is the debate around the import of chicken meat from the USA into the UK. The UK doesn’t allow chlorine washing of chicken meat. This may seem an arbitrary point for not trading, but read this article to understand why chlorine washing is so problematic and why it is required in the USA.

In contrast Rampa (2014) explains people in developing countries generally eat unprocessed food produced by family farmers.

SDG 9 proposes agro-industry and agribusiness for developing countries. The goal states ‘Least developed countries have immense potential for industrialization in food and beverages (agro-industry)’ and:

In developing countries, barely 30 per cent of agricultural production undergoes industrial processing. In high-income countries, 98 per cent is processed. This suggests that there are great opportunities for developing countries in agribusiness.

The SDG 9 targets focus on enablers such as access to financial services, research and development and retro-fitting existing industry to be more efficient and sustainable.

How does SDG 9 create a sustainable future?

Will the SDG’s promotion of agricultural industrialisation contribute to a sustainable global future? Should the world emulate the USA? To answer these questions we consider some agricultural challenges and possible responses.

One challenge is a growing global population and limited additional arable land. Increasing the sustainable productivity of existing land is one response. Technological innovation such as genetically modified crops and high-intensity agricultural production systems can arguably increase food supply. They can arguably also make food supplies more vulnerable through the reduction of genetic diversity resulting in increased disease and crop losses.

So the intensity of industrialised agriculture may in fact cause significant losses and affect food security. This highlights a difference between intensity and diversity, a strength of family farming which by its nature is highly diversified.

It also shows how a change, such as climate change, adds complexity within a system and may cause unintended consequences.

Many questions about SDG 9 and agriculture come to mind:

  • How is the food system of a country or community changed by intensive agriculture?
  • What types of costs are included when measuring intensive agricultural productivity?

The consequences of adopting industrialised agriculture globally could be extremely significant not only for the environment but for human health, wealth, political and social stability.

As you read SDG 9 and the articles consider critically what role this goal may play in leading us to a sustainable future? What are the potential limitations of the goal, in terms of its scope, and intent?

Your task

Considering your vision of the future, what would your ideal food system look like? Is your ideal food system likely to result from SDG 9? Share your thoughts in comments.


United Nations, 2016 ‘Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation’, United Nations..

Rampa, F 2014, ‘Family farms are model farms, says FAO chief’, The Guardian.

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