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A Japanese partner working to feed the world

Digital technologies are already being adopted in agriculture to increase yield, reduce costs, and optimize operations. As they develop, they could help to address global food security challenges.

– Less than three months after being elected a partner of the firm, Yuito Yamada, who is based in our Tokyo office, was also awarded a fellowship to the Trilateral Commission.

The nongovernmental organization promotes greater cooperation between North America, Europe, and the Asia–Pacific region and explores international solutions to pressing global concerns. Its members include leaders from industry, government, and society. Yuito’s fellowship will allow him to work closely with the commission’s 390 members, who currently include two other firm members: managing partner Dominic Barton and senior partner Vivian Hunt.

Yuito was chosen for his expertise in food security. “When the commission invited me to interview, I was daunted,” he remembers. “But I described my work with clients on agriculture and talked about how I would like to improve the efficiency of food production to create a stable supply of food in our world.”

Three weeks after the interview, Yuito was attending his first meeting of the commission in Washington, DC. Newspapers were still running tributes to the man for whom Yuito’s fellowship was named: David Rockefeller, who had died five days earlier at the age of 101. Rockefeller had described the organization he cofounded as “a group of private citizens with an intense interest in global affairs” who seek to “put their minds to the larger issues and call upon a diversity of expert opinions.”

Yuito Yamada, a partner in our Tokyo office, works with companies and governments on agriculture and food production.

Yuito’s experience includes helping governments with agriculture and food security and private companies in Asia export technologies to increase food production. He and colleagues Nicolas Denis, Jakob Fischer, Lutz Goedde, and Masaaki Tanaka published a report last year on the opportunities for strengthening Japan’s agriculture.

“In Japan, agriculture is very fragmented,” he explains, “with small farms accounting for a large share of production, a rapidly aging workforce in which the average age is 67.5, and domestic consumption set to decrease. This poses unique challenges.”

“Globally, climate change will produce ‘winners,’ who will see an increase in agricultural productivity, as well as countries that will experience unprecedented difficulties,” he says. “For instance, between 2005 and 2009, the world saw food prices more than double as global economic trends—including the high price of oil, which led farmers to produce crops for biofuel—put pressure on food supplies.”

“The limitations of geography mean that food shortages could be solved not by opening new production areas and farms but from making productivity improvements,” remarks Yuito.

In the regional session of the Trilateral Commission in Tokyo later this year, Yuito will share new research on the potential implications of digital technologies for agriculture. “We are already seeing examples of automation, like the use of robots for growing, monitoring and harvesting crops, and analytics, such as the use of big data to optimize inputs of seeds, fertilizer, and irrigation to maximize yields. There has been more than $1 billion of start-up funding for the sector,” says Yuito. “But we believe the economic impact could be in excess of $300 billion, as these technologies mature and are adopted more widely. It’s an exciting time for agriculture—and holds great promise for feeding the world in the future.”