By Philippe Gillet
Chief Scientific Officer – SICPA
Feeding the world’s population in a sustainable way is one of the biggest challenges we face in the 21st century. Applying new technologies to the agri-food sector could deliver benefits in productivity, efficiency, traceability and trustworthiness across the value chain, without increasing costs and the need to exploit larger areas of arable land.
Food cannot be considered independently of the environment, health and the economy. The biomass nexus is the best example of a fully integrated, interconnected and adaptable system of systems.
Systems adapt to maintain 3 priorities common to all societies in our century:
- Food security, nutrition and health (human and animal — the One Health approach)
- Sustainability of resources and environmental health (land, water, biodiversity equilibrium, energy)
- Economic growth, prosperity and employment
There are trade-offs between each of these priorities, to satisfy food and non-food needs and the interests of the different stakeholders. At the macro level, trade-offs are managed through policies, standards, regulatory frameworks, agreements or financing. At the micro level, better information, affordable technologies, micro financing allow smaller players to rethink their models. But adaptation takes time. Introducing trust and empowering all the actors of the economy is necessary to accompany and alleviate the difficulties of transitioning.
Square One will promote smart technologies that deliver trust for actors inside verticals and across the value chain. Starting from (literally) “the ground up” is critical, with technologies that empower farmers (producers) to identify and certify their food products, be they seeds or raw materials (soya beans, shrimps, sugar cane, milk, a chick), and which will guarantee provenance and integrity at every step of the transformation chain. For the moment such technologies are not necessarily seen as directly impacting on work in the field or in logistics. However, robotics and IoTs, data analytics, spatial telecommunication, optical sensing, multispectral imaging, drones etc. are increasingly part of the digitalization of the agri-sector. They can provide farmers with valuable information for targeted, efficient and timely intervention. Similarly, DNA and isotopic based solutions can alert industry and consumers against fakes in food – e.g. rice derived from plastic or falsely labelled organic food. Ethical production practices supported by blockchain technologies that provide auditable proofs can be used to maintain quality, combat waste and protect stakeholders.
Over recent years food supply chains have lengthened. People have become more distant from environmental impact, animal welfare and working conditions. But collective awareness is changing, and increasingly consumers, producers and agencies want to make the invisible visible, to enable trust through transparency. With better visibility as part of a connected supply chain, small producers could have access to new markets and population centres. With auditable and accessible data, they can learn and become more efficient. At the end of the trusted chain, consumers can make informed, sensible and fair choices.
Establishing trust inside and between systems is key to a successful holistic approach to food production and consumption, both for the economy and the ecology. But it requires awareness, action and effort by all, which means that collaboration is key. This is why we want to bring to Square One all the actors of the food value chain to develop, adopt and value technologies, quality standards and ethical practices. There has never been a better opportunity for the agri-food sector to get value out of economic and social transactions based on trust. The business opportunities and citizen benefits from assuring the Economy of Trust today are virtually endless.