There is no doubt food technology innovations such as bio-innovation, gene editing, robotics and AI, will dramatically reshape how we produce, manage and demand food. However, their effects are likely to be unevenly distributed.
Countries and farmers who can afford to ride the food tech wave will prosper whilst others will fall further behind. The impact of the tech revolution could, unintentionally, lead to an even greater divide between the ‘haves and have-nots’ and exacerbate inequality in availability, access and affordability of food.
Although likely, this scenario does not have to play out. We have a choice. Government, businesses and society can, collectively, create a world where technology is instead used to narrow the gap. One of the critical enablers for this new future will be increased market connectivity. In order for innovation to scale, markets will have to foster collaboration and actively create and support open source platforms. This will not be an easy task, especially in today’s world where geopolitical dynamics are demonstrating nationalist and isolationist tendencies, as evidenced by recent events and elections in the United States and Europe, which may impact trade agreements and international collaboration.
To tackle inequality and to allow technology to bridge the divide, now more than ever, governments and international bodies will need to find ways to collaborate and keep data and innovations open and accessible to all. Technology can then become the true driver of sustainability. It can ensure human sustainability by creating smart ways to increase production yield and nutritional values. Secondly, it can enable sustainable production (precision farming) and preserve our critical natural resources such as water. And lastly, technology can be a game changer for the sustainability of the sector by attracting talent.
One of the biggest challenges in western society is the lack of people, particularly the younger generations, who choose a career in farming. This is a serious threat to this sector with many aging farmers facing situations with no one to hand their business over to. Smart farming however could change that perception, alter the lens on sector attractiveness, and make farming sexy again.
Technology, fostered in the right way, can become the blessing this world needs to overcome the challenge of feeding the growing population and addressing important issues, such as inequality in access to nutritious food. But how and to what extent technology is harnessed, rests with us. Here are our suggestions:
- Embrace market connectivity and international trade with provisions for responsible practices
- Foster innovation through governance incentives, facilitate collaboration platforms and food tech hubs
- Facilitate access to capital to enable smaller farmers to invest in technology
- Stimulate transparency in food sourcing and efforts to address inequalities along the chain.
Businesses (farming, food processing and tech companies)
- Actively seek opportunities to collaborate in the sector, including universities, allowing innovation to prosper and scale
- Increase adoption of the use of big data and satellite for smart farming and embrace technology that enables food to be produced in radically new ways
- Prioritise tech innovation to help bridge the ‘last mile’ problem for small farmers who account for approximately 80% of food production in the developing world
- Collectively change the lens on sector attractiveness through education programs at universities and joint innovation initiatives
- Leverage, where appropriate, block-chain to increase access to finance to fund technology investments
The future of our food systems holds risks, but also creates opportunities for markets and consumers to prosper when we allow technology to help create the world we need.
Our choices – through action or inaction – will determine our path.
Note: The Deloitte and WEF study, Shaping the Future of Global Food Systems: A Scenarios Analysis, explored various likely scenarios based on consumption and market connectedness. It looks into ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ food will be produced and consumed including the possible implications on economic development, sector configuration, network risks, inequality, hunger, poverty and climate change. This is the third in a series of blogs on the Future of Food, the first was: Overweight and obese – the choice is ours as consumers, or is it? and the second: The Future of Food – We are running out