How Digital Technologies are Transforming the Food System?
Today, the world is facing the pressing challenge of unsustainable food production and consumption practices. The current food system is the primary driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss and generates a quarter of the greenhouse gas pollution globally.
Around 500 million farmers contribute 80% of food globally are among the poorest and malnourished groups. Climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, mostly through effects on agriculture and food security. Therefore, improving the food system’s performance is crucial if we are to feed roughly 10 billion people by 2050 sustainably while raising farmer incomes, protecting them from climate change, and helping them thrive.
Breakthrough digital technologies have the potential to deliver significant positive impacts across food value chains. Technology has revolutionized agriculture at regular intervals, from the invention of the ox-drawn plow in ancient Egypt to the first gas-infused tractor at the beginning of the 20th century. In the 1960s, the Green Revolution rolled out high-yielding cereal seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.
In the coming years, digital technologies will change the definition of the agricultural sector. Latest innovations are expected to make food systems more resource-efficient and climate-resilient, such as precision agriculture, gene-editing, biological-based crop protection, or technologies that improve traceability from farm to fork.
How to Scale Technology in the Global Food System
Almost 40% of the world’s agricultural land is degraded, around 2 billion people do not have access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food, and 690 million suffer from hunger. Food loss and waste costs the global economy USD 90 billion annually and emits 8% of GHGs. Now, COVID-19 threatens to push 270 million people to the brink of starvation.
With less than ten years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to change the way food is produced and consumed fundamentally. It includes changing over 500 million smallholder farmers’ practices and the consumption patterns of 7.7 billion individuals.
When deployed appropriately and rooted in local needs, innovation has the potential to solve several challenges that include cutting across the production cycle with advances in logistics and ingredient development, enhancing market and consumer access. Mobile phones can facilitate complex financial transactions. Blockchain can safeguard quality in end-to-end supply chains and lead to fairer prices and financial accountability. Remote sensing and artificial intelligence (AI) are aiding farmers in developing countries to plan and use optimal agricultural inputs in real-time. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has an innovation accelerator to leverage the role of technology innovations. The innovation accelerator scales innovation to achieve a world without hunger.
Despite that, the food and agriculture sector is decades behind in adopting and delivering technology, and there has been a historical lack of investments in food and agriculture tech.
Technology and innovations can detect bottlenecks and accelerate cooperation, both required at an unprecedented scale. However, we need to explore beyond particular technologies, initiatives, or stakeholders to take an environmental view that recognizes all key actors in the system and looks to solve overreaching challenges.
So what is required is a deliberate and coordinated effort towards developing a vibrant local ‘innovation ecosystem’ focused on increasing investments, creating policy incentives, building capacity, and developing smart partnerships to enable solutions to meet local challenges and achieve scalable impact.
Digital technologies should not be viewed as a panacea, even though they offer significant opportunities. Other investments such as better roads, uninterrupted electricity, post-harvest storage facilities, and better logistics linking farmers to markets are equally important. Better investment climate and government policies will increase demand for digital technologies.