Editor’s note: Growing up in a farming family in eastern North Carolina, Paula Henderson is now Executive Vice President and Chief Sales Officer, Americas, for Cary, NC-based analytics company SAS.

CARY – Our world is facing ongoing and impactful supply chain and food stability issues. Locally, we see higher prices at the grocery store. Globally, we see food shortages and severe hunger.

The world’s population is predicted to increase by two billion by 2050, to nearly 10 billion people. The UN estimates a 70% rise in agricultural production is needed to meet future demand.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient David Beasley, former South Carolina Governor and outgoing Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme warned, “famine is at humanity’s doorstop…with 270 million people – more than the entire population of Western Europe – marching toward starvation.”

Paula Henderson (Photo by Christer Berg)

Meanwhile, this year, 45% of all fruits and vegetables grown will never be eaten; and 13.8% of all food produced is lost in supply chain inefficiencies. It is heartbreaking that 144 million children under five are growth-stunted and 47 million children are affected by food wastage.

Solving the hunger crisis is part of my personal and professional mission. As a child, I spent summers working on the farm in a small community in Wilson County. I grew up watching family members dedicate their hearts and souls to growing plants and harvesting crops to feed our communities. Today, I’m trying to do the same but from a different vantage point as a leader for North Carolina-based analytics provider, SAS.

SAS was born at NC State University in 1976, developing a system to better analyze crop yield and livestock data to ensure more sustainable and efficient agriculture methods.

I’m honored to support the teams at SAS who remain committed to using data and technology to  help North Carolina as a global leader in agriculture, including with a continued focus in precision and smart farming. We consider efforts to address food stability and hunger to be a critical social responsibility.

By 2050, we must double our food supply and become at least 70% more efficient to meet demand. The only way to accomplish this is through innovative approaches in planting seeds, protecting crops, and fostering advancements in every part of the supply chain and agricultural processes.

These challenges are tackled every day in North Carolina through our diverse base of existing agribusinesses and by new start-ups, like Boragen. Boragen is pioneering ways to fight plant disease and protect crops more sustainably and effectively. Their technology has broad applications in human health, animal health and agriculture.

Boragen is supported by SAS analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities as well as funding from Pappas Capital. SAS and Pappas Capital announced a joint initiative to incubate more new smart farming, precision agriculture and analytics solutions. This partnership further positions North Carolina as the world leader in AgTech. In the Research Triangle area alone, we have more than 100 AgTech companies, as well as NC State University’s innovative Plant Sciences Initiative.

North Carolina’s agricultural sector, in 2020, contributed $91.7 billion to the state’s economy and employed one in six North Carolinians.

In 2030, those numbers will be even greater and be further enhanced with investments in AgTech companies and innovation. Our farms of the future will include sensors, cloud storage, reams of data and better agricultural analytics as we optimize how North Carolina produces food.

It is imperative that corporate citizens like SAS continue to heed the call to tackle global hunger with new and innovative solutions. I invite fellow leaders in North Carolina and beyond to join me in prioritizing this critical social responsibility. In the decades ahead, North Carolina will not only become the world capital of agriculture technology and smart farming, but also the basecamp for the global war on hunger.