Technology powered Sustainable Food Systems
Our innovation consultants from the Green & Sustainable Innovations (GSI) team at Catalyze are passionate about the technological advancements that enable sustainable food systems. In this piece, GSI Consultant, Srilekha Ravvarapu, shares insight into the major transformative technologies for sustainable food systems, together with key Horizon Europe funding opportunities.
Shifting away from unsustainable food systems
Most food systems are unsustainable with an inevitable need for a sustainable transformation, to tackle the complex challenges of food systems related to growing population, climate change, shrinking land resources, soil degradation due to excessive chemical usage, biodiversity loss, etc. Breakthrough technologies across all key stages of the food system ranging from food production to food processing and distribution play a key role in achieving this transformation, and a sustainable food future. Shifting away from unsustainable food systems is a necessity, and no longer a choice, proven by the agri-food policy priorities globally, and in the EU (Farm 2 Fork strategy, EU Climate Target Plan, etc.)
Luckily, market demand for sustainably grown and handled food is increasing rapidly. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of the impact of their food on the environment and are favouring foods that have a smaller ecological footprint. Sustainability is a great motivation and driver of food choices by consumers (Food Navigator). Therefore business models contributing to a sustainable food system have become increasingly viable, and attractive in the eyes of the investors.
Transformative technologies for sustainable food systems
Over the years, we have seen a steep increase in the number of clients that work on technologies related to sustainable food systems. These companies and institutes are revolutionizing the way food is grown, handled, processed, retailed, and consumed. Some transformative technologies are highlighted below that contribute to the transition to sustainable food systems and ultimately, can make the planet a better place to live.
1. Sustainable farming: using machine vision and sensing
Crop monitoring is essential for tracking parameters such as plant growth, pest infestation, disease, soil health and harvest prediction, enabling the growers to implement sustainable practices.
To make the transition towards sustainable food systems more effective, growers and other food system actors are moving away from outdated, human-intensive, sampling-based methods in crop monitoring. Data from multi-spectral cameras and sensors integrated into drones, robots, smart phones, etc., provide farmers with valuable real-time information on factors such as soil health, plant growth, pest infestations and disease.
In-field data interacts with big data libraries and uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven analytics to present actionable insights to the growers. This data helps them optimise their regenerative crop management, take data driven decisions and improve profitability. Such insights include crop rotations, time of sowing, nutrient application, harvesting, etc.
2. Sustainable food production and processing: using AI-based predictive analytics
Food handling and logistics are the largest contributors to food wastage, with inaccurate quality monitoring playing a major role.
Data augmentation and modelling can significantly enhance the eco-efficiency of food logistics. Leading food brands have already started using AI-predictive analytics to reduce wastage by improving the demand and inventory planning. Through such advancements, food brands estimate the carbon cost of a food product in advance, which the new product development team is able to further reduce during the design stage. For example, AI optimised packaging is key to estimating the right quantity of packaging material that is needed, thus reducing the volume of materials used, and resultantly the manufacturing impact related to costs and environment.
Another example is the fresh food sector where Machine Learning can play a transformative role in quality monitoring of fruit and vegetables post-harvest, and during transit, with significant potential to avoid food wastage that can unlock an economic opportunity of $127 billion by 2030 (McKinsey).
AI-driven analytics allows for image recognition of fresh produce for their external quality attributes (size, colour, shape, etc.) and correlates with internal attributes like pH, Brix etc., to match the demand and the supply more accurately. This human-like cognitive function eliminates bias from error-prone manual quality inspections , ultimately reducing rejections by the buyers (retailers, food services, etc.) and thus leading to less wastage.
3. Digital solutions to foster sustainability among citizens
Food brands are struggling to implement food traceability in a fool proof manner, as consumers want to know the sustainability profile of the food they eat.
First generation traceability solutions powered by IoT, Blockchain and AI enable transparency regarding the source, safety and authenticity of the ingredients used in a food product. The next generation are aiming to help consumers compare the sustainability impact of food products by grading (eco-scores). These scores, based on environmental footprints of food products, are built on the data that influence sustainability parameters, leveraging the Life Cycle Inventories (LCI) gathered across key stages of the food supply chain.
AI and the trained analytical algorithms simplify the complexity of handling volumes of data across different variables. Such a revolutionary digital infrastructure precisely measures the environmental footprint of food products and enhances the information position of the consumers, fostering a sustainable food environment and hence the dietary shifts of the citizens.
Sustainable food systems funding opportunities in 2023/2024: Horizon Europe
Are you an innovator of such impactful technologies or looking for funding opportunities to further your work on sustainable food systems? Here are some exciting opportunities from the Horizon Europe 2023 framework:
- HORIZON-CL6-2024-FARM2FORK: Creating smart and attractive tools to enhance healthy and sustainable food provision, eating and treating of food at home
- HORIZON-CL6-2024-FARM2FORK: Citizens’ science as an opportunity to foster the transition to sustainable food systems
- HORIZON-CL6-2023-COMMUNITIES: Inclusive and smart ways to communicate sustainability of food
- HORIZON-CL6-2023-GOVERNANCE: Advancing analytical capacity and tools to support EU agri-food policies post 2027
- horizon-cl6-2023-governance: data-driven solutions to foster industry’s contribution to inclusive and sustainable food systems
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