Technology to Feed the World

Table 3 – State of play for innovations

Existing Technologies and Approaches

Looking Ahead

Strengths

Weaknesses

Opportunities

Threats/Risks

A. Increase quality

Precision.Data-driven decision-making enables farmers to optimise and apply inputs with precision – using drones, satellites, sensors and other technologies

  • Increases productivity, reduced farm operating costs
  • Fewer inputs like water and agrichemicals means better environmental outcomes and improved soil health

  • Poor connectivity stifles progress
  • High initial capital cost
  • Technologies come with steep learning curve for users
  • Closed systems and limited data

  • Help improve outcomes on smaller farms and in developing countries
  • Apply more advanced sensor and more autonomous systems to more crops

  • Farms may not require human labour
  • May exclude smaller farms
  • Loss of misuse of data could result in financial and environmental losses
  • May lead to a loss of farmer know-how

Protection.Advances in biotech such as gene-editing, soil microbiome technologies and biological-based crop protection can protect crops and improve soil health

  • Improved functional benefits of produce, increased resilience and productivity, and improved nutrition
  • Reduced chemical intervention means better soil health, fewer emissions

  • Development can be lengthy
  • Applications often have to be developed to meet specific needs and regional characteristics
  • Microbiome research at an early stage

  • Further advances in understanding of microbiome could enable us to improve soil and human health
  • Increased resistance to damage caused by climate change

  • Could result in less biodiversity
  • Ethical concerns
  • Potentially unpredictable impact on human health
  • Regulation could hinder progress

B. Improve Methods

New foods. Plant-based proteins and lab-grown and synthetic foods such as cultured meat and novel ingredients.

  • Significantly lower environmental impact: reduced water use, land use and fewer emissions
  • Less prone to biological risk or disease
  • Lower threat of antbiotic resistance

  • Cultured meat not yet commercialised
  • Cultured-meat production requires overcoming technology hurdles
  • Consumer acceptance still low on a global scale

  • Free up land mass and increase biodiversity, greater food security
  • Decreased threat of antibiotic resistance, reduced disease threat
  • Opportunity to make more foods in labs

  • Could lead to loss of livelihoods for countries dependent on livestock
  • Monocultures could negatively affect soil and biodiversity
  • Health impacts not fully known

New farms. Food grown in indoor, highly controlled environments usually in urban areas, such as vertical farms

  • Eliminates the need for harmful chemicals
  • Fewer inputs and less land required
  • Shorter supply-chains and fresher food

  • Requires large amounts of energy
  • Unit economic remains uncertain
  • Only currently suited to certain crops

  • Increased resilience to shocks caused by climate change, increased food security
  • Could produce healthier and more nutritious crops
  • Increased range of foods produced

  • No export model for vertical farming
  • Maximum production potential remains to be confirmed experimentally
  • Need more evidence on health impacts of soil-less farming

C. Reduce waste

Supply Chain. Food-processing, cold-storage and preservation tech including smart packaging solutions and nanotechnologies

  • Can keep food fresher for longer
  • Increased traceability, reduced waste, increased food security
  • Reduced financial losses for producers and consumers

  • Food preservation tech only applicable to certain foods
  • Many components in smart packaging not completely sustainable

  • Consumer demand for greater transparency and freshness
  • Reduce impact from food safety issues with further innovations like automated foreign object detection

  • Cybersecurity and data-privacy issues
  • Lack of knowledge among food producers on how to integrate these technologies
  • Safety concerns re nanotechnologies

Marketplaces/mobile servicesTrading platforms to facilitate distribution of food and equipment. Can result in better procurement processes and price transparency

  • Addresses distribution challenges
  • Increased food security in vulnerable areas
  • Increased financial inclusion for farmers and access to new markets

  • Poor connectivity in some areas stifles progress
  • Poor knowledge of digital technologies prevents uptake

  • Blockchain agriculture, to attain provenence and traceability of food, is expected to grow in importance
  • Economic opportunities in developing countries

  • Areas lacking basic agricultural infrastructure and data availability could be left out