Technological innovations for sustainable food systems

According to The Sustainable Development Goals Report of 2020, 2 billion or 25,9% of the global population experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2019. This is an increase of 22,4% in comparison with 2014. Almost 690 million people were undernourished in 2019, up by nearly 60 million from 2014.

COVID-19 poses an additional threat to food systems, as it indirectly reduces purchasing power and the capacity to produce and distribute food, which affects the most vulnerable populations. In 2020, up to 132 million more people may suffer from undernourishment because of COVID-19. One of the most important challenges is how countries are able to develop sustainable agriculture that ensures sufficient quantities of highly nutritional food.

Establishing sustainable agriculture means looking beyond aspects of nutrition and food security, however. We also need to consider the environmental, social and economic dimensions of agricultural practices. In particular, more attention should be paid to securing protein sources, as more consumers want sustainable food that has less of an environmental impact. This is why there is a growing necessity to provide plant-based meat-like foods (PBMs), cultured meats, and land-based aquaculture as a means of protein intake.

Build sustainable food systems

The realisation of sustainable food systems depends on many factors, including soil and land use, breeding and farming, and harvesting. For each of them, technological innovation is a critical enabler.

Achieving sustainable food systems is not just a matter of how food is produced, however. Aspects related to marketing and consumption also need to be addressed. Which gains can be achieved by deploying technological innovations that ensure traceability of produce or re-use of food waste, for example? And how can the control of excess food intake reduce the amount of food wasted?

Technological innovations create opportunities for all these challenges, particular those related to production, marketing and consumption of food. Emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Big data can help develop monitoring capabilities and platforms to support the development of sustainable food systems.

Smart agriculture

Smart agriculture uses sensors to collect data about soils and crops and their evolution. In order to complement the expertise of farmers, this data can be analysed and become an information base for better decisions. Training of consultants and advisory services is essential. However, the expertise of a farmer and his skills are still the most important components.

Thanks to the technological evolutions of Earth Observation satellites and the strategic investments of public organisations in Earth Observation programmes like Copernicus and Landsat, we’re moving away from an explorational phase into an era where we now have sound socio-economic reasons to position satellites in a lower orbit.

Space and airborne observation systems can provide global, high-quality and near-real-time digital information on various parts of the agro-food value chain. This is confirmed, in several examples, by the Earth Observation technology combined with Deep learning-based advanced analytics and data fusion techniques.

Apart from improving crop quantity and quality, these technologies will also help balance the economic, environmental and societal responsibility of the global agro-food domain.

Technology mix for sustainable irrigation

All over the world, sustainable irrigation is critical for achieving food and water security. Even if technological solutions with significant water saving potential have been in play for some time, upscaling their use has been challenging in various hydrogeological and socio-economic conditions.

Hence, most regions continue to suffer from low efficiency in irrigation water use. Enhancing that efficiency requires more than just deploying technologies, such as micro-irrigation systems, digital tools, and solar-powered water pumps. It demands a combination of technologies and best practices with effective policies and sustainable finance mechanisms, as well as inclusive water management.

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Check the author's bio

Michiharu  Nakamura

Michiharu Nakamura

Japan Science and Technology Agency

Senior Advisor (Former president)

Nakamura graduated from the University of Tokyo and joined Hitachi Central Research Laboratory in 1967, where he was engaged in compound semiconductors and optoelectronics research. He was a pioneer of semiconductor DFB laser development. In 2004, he was appointed Executive Vice President and Executive Officer of Hitachi Ltd., and then assumed a position of Board of Director till September 2011. He was responsible for corporate technology development and new business incubation. He was a visiting Researcher at California Institute of Technology in 1972-73. He is entitled IEEE fellow, JSAP fellow, and IEICE fellow for his engineering achievements in optoelectronics.

In 2011, he assumed the office of the President of Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), where policy-driven R&D funding is a major mission. Also, the dissemination of scientific information, science education for young generation, and science communication are among its current activities. He endeavoured to achieve high-impact innovations based on advanced R&D. After completing four- year presidency, he has been serving as the Counsellor to the President and Advisor for Science and Technology of JST since October 2015.

He has been actively working on industrial science and technology strategy. He served as Working Committee Chairman of Council of Competitiveness Japan (COCN) from 2008-2011 and pursued new industrial R&D initiatives under close collaboration with government and academia. He also served for Industrial R&D Committee of the Japan Business Federation, Tsukuba Global Innovation Promotion Agency, Industrial Committee for Supercomputing Promotion, Industrial User Society for Neutron Application, and Nanotechnology Business Creation Initiative.

Check the author's bio

Michiharu  Nakamura

Michiharu Nakamura

Japan Science and Technology Agency

Senior Advisor (Former president)

Nakamura graduated from the University of Tokyo and joined Hitachi Central Research Laboratory in 1967, where he was engaged in compound semiconductors and optoelectronics research. He was a pioneer of semiconductor DFB laser development. In 2004, he was appointed Executive Vice President and Executive Officer of Hitachi Ltd., and then assumed a position of Board of Director till September 2011. He was responsible for corporate technology development and new business incubation. He was a visiting Researcher at California Institute of Technology in 1972-73. He is entitled IEEE fellow, JSAP fellow, and IEICE fellow for his engineering achievements in optoelectronics.

In 2011, he assumed the office of the President of Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), where policy-driven R&D funding is a major mission. Also, the dissemination of scientific information, science education for young generation, and science communication are among its current activities. He endeavoured to achieve high-impact innovations based on advanced R&D. After completing four- year presidency, he has been serving as the Counsellor to the President and Advisor for Science and Technology of JST since October 2015.

He has been actively working on industrial science and technology strategy. He served as Working Committee Chairman of Council of Competitiveness Japan (COCN) from 2008-2011 and pursued new industrial R&D initiatives under close collaboration with government and academia. He also served for Industrial R&D Committee of the Japan Business Federation, Tsukuba Global Innovation Promotion Agency, Industrial Committee for Supercomputing Promotion, Industrial User Society for Neutron Application, and Nanotechnology Business Creation Initiative.