World Food Day on 16 October this year is an urgent call to roll up your sleeves as we face a global food crisis like never before. The United Nations estimates that there will be 9.8 billion people on this planet by 2050. Meanwhile, crop yields have plummeted to record lows and food prices are reaching record highs, while the effects of the pandemic , extreme weather events and geopolitical conflicts continue to disrupt supply chains worldwide. Still, a dedicated core of agribusiness startups and established leaders are innovating to feed the planet’s growing population in a healthy, sustainable way.
Data intelligence is a bulwark against food insecurity
Companies across the agricultural value chain are turning to data in their forecasting efforts. Some food processing companies are working closely with farmers to improve operations that meet regulatory emissions targets and corporate sustainability performance indicators, while gaining efficiencies and increasing crop yields. The imperatives of climate change only increase the urgency for action.
“Traditional experience-based agriculture is not sustainable in today’s highly dynamic world,” said Andreas Heckmann, executive vice president and head of customer solutions support and innovation at SAP. “Food processing organizations need insights from embedded data to increase agricultural efficiency. One example is SAP Intelligent Agriculture, where agribusiness organizations, including farmers and other partners, share and interpret real-time data from sensors, weather stations and satellite imagery to better understand when to plant, irrigate, grow and harvest crops for higher yields. cost savings and sustainability’.
Climate intelligence enhances crop yields
Real-time and near-real-time intelligence is fast becoming a bulwark against the threats of climate change. A SAP partner, a Chile-based startup called Agranimo, collects and analyzes data from climate and terrain sensors and satellite imagery. This intelligence is designed to help growers better predict and increase farm yields, reduce water and fertilizer consumption, and assess climate risks. With integrated climate and soil information, growers can improve crop management strategies, including pest and disease management, for more accurate yield predictions, as well as environmental sustainability. For example, commercial farmers can adjust irrigation to plant needs and use less water or act quickly to protect plants from extreme weather conditions. Agranimo participated in the Industry 4.0 cohort of SAP.iO Foundry Berlin, the company’s global B2B accelerator.
Automated quality control reduces food waste
As if food shortages weren’t enough of a challenge, the UN reported that nearly half of all fruit and vegetables produced worldwide are wasted each year. Clarifruit, a participant in the SAP.iO Foundry Paris cohort, has developed a mobile app that helps growers, wholesalers, retailers and others automate real-time, yet consistent quality control of fruits and vegetables. It is a faster and more objective way to reduce the rampant levels of waste and losses that typically occur during agricultural production and post-harvest handling and storage. By replacing tedious manual inspection with AI-based algorithms, Clarifruit’s app speeds up quality control and aggregates real-time data into a dashboard. Organizations can customize reports and alerts to align with their quality standards, highlighting both historical trends and real-time data for better decision-making. In a pilot program, a global food company doubled the productivity of its quality control team and significantly reduced errors.
Real-time data can alleviate bottlenecks in the supply chain
Consumers at the receiving end of the supply chain in many regions continue to face shortages of foods such as mustard, butter, eggs, bread and, most worryingly in the US, baby formula. Real-time connected data is equally important for flexibility when vessels cannot carry expected food cargoes due to low waterway levels, or are stranded in ports due to sudden surges in supply and demand or other unexpected events that strain traffic.
“Unified data between sourcing and manufacturing, through transportation, distribution and delivery, can reveal the next best option in the event of a food chain disruption,” said Heckmann. “Data-driven decisions provide the agribusiness industry with a clear path to meet the challenges of tomorrow.”
Rural women expand food equity
While agritech is data-driven for positive change, entrepreneurs are also energizing communities by innovating directly with people who are typically most affected by food shortages. One example is Durian, a Nigeria-based social enterprise that trains women in rural communities to become self-sufficient by reusing waste to grow crops and process food and other products for sustainable living. Women in the program often become mentors in their communities.
“We see the power of sharing skills and information through our circular economy projects,” said Tony Joy, founder and director of Durian. “Transforming the economic situation of a woman and her family through environmentally sustainable work has an impact on hundreds and thousands of people in many communities. We are looking for partners to help replicate this strategy in other African countries and globally.”
The future of food is human-centric
As market uncertainties persist, innovators are exploring many ways to bring delicious, healthy food to everyone’s table. Whether it’s innovations like indoor vertical farming and plant-based meat, or it’s people-centric where communities come together, bold thinkers and doers are seeding the next generation of sustainable food production.
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