Our food systems pose a major threat to both human health and the global environment1,2. Yet, the challenges facing the industry seem paradoxical: more food is available today than ever before, but many millions of people are undernourished and billions more are malnourished.
The figures are staggering: more than 800 million people are chronically undernourished and more than 4 billion are micronutrient deficient, overweight or obese, a phenomenon known as the triple burden of malnutrition3.
Our food systems have been estimated to be responsible for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while climate change is threatening 25% of crop yields4,5.
Change is urgently needed in the form of precision food systems to address these issues and optimize every point in the supply chain.Technology, traceability, opportunity
Technologies including the IoT (Internet of Things), advanced analytics, and distributed ledger technologies will enable the food industry to reduce waste and become more resource-effective, environmentally friendly, and consumer-centric.
The increased ability to digitally trace food supplies will enable more granular information related to each individual product, rather than production systems, creating a market for third-party verification of enabling technologies, algorithms and other digital assets.
The potential market opportunities are huge. The precision agriculture industry is predicted to grow from USD 4.84 billion in 2018 to USD 10.16 billion by 20246, with new business opportunities reaching USD 2.3 trillion annually by 20307. Precision aquaculture also holds major potential, with the industry currently in its early stages of digital transformation.Safe, affordable quality
Retailers are pushing for high quality, safe food at the lowest price possible, creating demand for precision food systems. This is only possible by increasing the precision and granularity of traceability throughout the supply chain, which is also driven by consumer demand for trust and transparency in factors including source ingredients, environmental footprint, animal welfare, nutrient content, and more.
Food-borne hazards are responsible for more than 200 acute and chronic diseases from digestive tract infections8. Contaminated foods and food fraud also hamper economic development, trade, and tourism, and overload our healthcare systems, while undermining consumer trust in producers and product retailers.Cultural hurdles
Food is a significant part of our daily lives, and consumers can be slow to change their behaviour with regards to food systems, compared to other acquired areas and industries. In addition, current systems are often incompatible with future digital solutions that depend on all partners sharing their data for efficient supply chain management, as well as having adequate legal and ethical measures in place for information sharing.Blockchain and smart labelling
Blockchain provides traceability from farm to fork with time-stamped information at every stage of the creation process for an individual foodstuff. For example, fish caught at sea could be tagged with the location of the trawler and the fishing method. Storage conditions (temperate, humidity) could also be logged9. A variety of future tagging methods is expected for labeling food, including editable tags and those relying on the genetic characteristics.
Producers and suppliers jointly compile the relevant information on the farming and food processing of a product as it passes along the supply chain. This data is then verified and stored on the blockchain. When the product reaches the end user, the entire timeline of the product is available via a smartphone-readable QR code or similar smart labelling technology.
A trusted and transparent supply chain is the result, potentially leading to reduction in energy, water consumption in production, reduced waste and better labor conditions for farmers.Impact on society
Global human health will improve, moderating the triple burden of malnutrition and reducing diseases associated with food fraud or contamination. Highly optimized food systems may reduce the burden on our planet, thanks to the efficiencies realized across the supply chain.
On the other hand, a two-tier system could result in only the wealthy having access to nutrition-rich and optimized foodstuffs, while producers in less developed countries risk being left behind.
- Willett et. Al. (2019) Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet, 393 (10170), pp 446-482.
- IPCC (2019) Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change… Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- FAO (2018) The future of food and agriculture - Alternative pathways to 2050. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- FAO (2016) Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.
- World Food Programme (ND) Climate and food security analyses
- Cited in Global Research and Markets ‘Global Precision Agriculture Market by Technology’
- AlphaBeta (2016) Valuing the SDG prize in food and agriculture. Paper commissioned by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission.
- FAO (2019) The Future of Food Safety. Brochure presenting FAO’s work on food safety.
- DNV GL (2018) ‘Increasing transparency and efficiency in global seafood supply chains’. Report produced together with Deloitte.