Most of us have heard of the Fab Four and maybe even the Famous Five but talk at the World Economic Forum is all about the “Transformative Twelve” – a collection of enabling and promising technologies that could change food production systems over the next decade.
The technologies were identified within the “Innovation With A Purpose” report, authored in partnership with McKinsey & Co, and have all been chosen for their potential impact in improving consumer nutrition, increasing supply chain efficiency and transparency and boosting farmer productivity and profitability.
Pleasingly (but perhaps not surprisingly), they include many of the technologies in our cluster.
The “Transformative Twelve” focus around three main drivers:
- Changing the shape of demand – Alternative protein sources, sensing technologies for food safety, quality and traceability and nutrigenetics for personalised nutrition were highlighted. These technologies sit at the consumer-facing end of the value chain which will be influence demand and provide market pull.
- Promoting value chain linkages – Big data and advanced analytics for insurance sit alongside mobile service delivery and blockchain-enabled traceability. These approaches help connect up the value chain, with the so-called “internet-of-things” providing supply chain transparency.
- Creating effective production systems – these will be underpinned by precision agriculture, gene editing tools for multi-trait seeds, technologies to enhance the microbiome for increased crop resilience, and biological-based crop protection and soil nutrient management. Off-grid renewable energy generation and storage will be key to providing access to a reliable electricity supply to power many of these real-time monitoring innovations.
Transforming food systems in this way will, the report argues, require a “holistic approach engaging all stakeholders. It will also be dependent on a wide array of actions such as improved policy, increased investment, expanded infrastructure, farmer capacity-building, consumer behaviour change and improved resource management.”
Struggling farmers underpin grand goals
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
Achieving the SDG by 2030 through the efficient production of healthy, nutritious, inclusive, sustainable food for everyone is a massive undertaking which requires a global collaborative effort.
Yet underpinning these somewhat overwhelming grand global challenges are farmers and growers, many of whom are struggling to make their farm business break even, or in extreme cases, feed their family.
Also hopes are resting on the many technology developers, breeders and innovators who are battling the hype and expectation over the day-to-day challenges of funding a small business, recruiting talent and attracting and managing investors to bring these ideas to a point where they stand a chance of being adopted in commercial reality.
Grand visions are necessary, important and align disparate interests. But let’s not forget the those delivering the necessary elements of these grand visions are individuals. Hard-working, committed and smart people whose contribution to the transformation of the food system must be recognised, supported and celebrated.
WEF report Innovation with a Purpose: The role of technology in accelerating food systems transformation