Building Blocks of Food System Transformation

28. February 2021 Uncategorized 0

The 2021 Food Systems Summit has been convened to raise awareness of the actions needed to transform food systems in order to combat hunger and also tackle the increasing incidents of diet and nutrition related disease. The Food Systems Summit, at its core, recognises the role food and agriculture play in achieving Sustainable Development Goals and the urgency required to deliver on them. In order to create a cohesive process the Food Systems Summit developed five Action Tracks towards five objectives

  1. Ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all
  2. Shifting to sustainable consumption patterns
  3. Boosting nature positive production at sufficient scales
  4. Advancing equitable livelihoods and value distribution
  5. Building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses

The Action Tracks will draw on the expertise of actors from across the world’s food systems. Together, they will explore how key cross-cutting levers of change such as human rights, finance, innovation, and the empowerment of women and young people can be mobilized to meet the Summit’s objectives

https://www.un.org/en/food-systems-summit/action-tracks

These Action Tracks aim to bring together key players and draw upon the collective knowledge of stakeholders from across the world food system.

There are Food System Dialogues planned in the lead up to the summit and a number Member State Dialogues organized locally. The results of these dialogues will inform pathways towards sustainable food systems.

Apple tree illustration

In order to achieve a meaningful transformation of food systems it is necessary to have a holistic approach, engaging as many stakeholders as possible and exploring as wide a range of actions as possible including improved policy, targeted investment, on the ground capacity building, and consumer behaviour shift. Disruptive technology driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) such as big data, the internet of things (IoT), AI and machine learning and Blockchain technology can catalyse large scale and rapid change if implemented equitably and fairly. These technologies in partnership with other advances in science like next generation biotechnologies and genomics can present increased opportunity in the advancement of food systems transformation.

According to the Sustainable Development Commission it has been estimated that in the course of addressing the SDG the food and agriculture sector could increase new business opportunities and reach $2.3 trillion by 2030 http://s3.amazonaws.com/aws-bsdc/Valuing-SDG-Food-Ag-Prize-Paper.pdf 4IE technology has the potential to change food systems and change the consumer landscape, improve the value chain linkage however unintended consequences must be considered as positive effects may be delivered in a less than equal way.

Transparent supply chains that are traceable in real time are key to advancing food systems. The internet of Things (IoT) would make it possible to track products through supply chains and moderate storage conditions as required. The data generated from this could better match supply and demand ensuring ethical sourcing, and can provide consumers with nutritional and environmental information. Details from farm to fork could become available all along the supply chain. 

All stakeholders along the supply chain would need to be in agreement to help improve traceability and transparency. Traceability sensors would need to be affordable and user friendly as traceability starts at the farm. In addition parameters would need to be set to define the type and amount of information made available to encourage corporations to participate. 

Verigo, a company formed in the University of Florida’s Innovation Hub, offers food monitoring hardware devices, a cloud based platform and mobile app to stakeholders across the value chain. The data helps minimize food losses and maximize the quality of the product. Information on the temperature, humidity, shelf life etc can be accessed in real time  and allows customers to track products from farm to fork.

Technology such as this in addition to distributed ledger technology such as blockchain would provide speed and added security to the information. Blockchain technology makes it impossible to corrupt or tamper with the information along the supply chain. This can help farmers and producers secure premiums for their products as the consumer can feel confident in the providence and nutritional value of the product. 

IBM and Walmart have collaborated on a study investigating the benefits of a transparent food system and how blockchain can help create this. It has been shown that information on a product  using blockchain can be accessed in 2.2 seconds. This would normally take up to a week to obtain the same information. This helps with reducing time when contaminants are found for instance.

One concern about blockchain technology is the scalability potential. The increase in transactions the greater the computing power required at every node. As the block chain grows fewer nodes have sufficient power and the possibility of centralization of computing may compromise the security of the data. Also the more basic stumbling blocks of having enough power or bandwidth to supply the processing of such a quantity of information https://hbr.org/2010/10/the-transparent-supply-chain

The issue with such tech is the potential climate impact it may have. Some research suggests 4IR and its resulting carbon emissions are a cause for concern.

“The lack of accurate calculations of processing power, energy consumption, and resulting GHG emissions caused by the use of blockchain-type technology are alarming.”

Sanna Setterwall, greenhouse gas (GHG) expert from South Pole

However the issue is not with the use of energy but where the energy comes from. This is a sector in its infancy and needs more analysis to really realise its full potential.

Blockchain technologies have attracted the interest of European public institutions. For example, the European Commission considers blockchain to be ‘transformative for the decades to come’ and it therefore ‘aims at positioning Europe at the forefront of blockchain innovation and uptake’ (EC, 2019a).

https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/sustainability-transitions/drivers-of-change/blockchain-and-the-environment#:~:text=Notwithstanding%20the%20energy%20consumption%20and,which%20could%20enhance%20their%20sustainability.

The application of this technology would go a ways to addressing the goals of Action Track 2; Shift to healthy and sustainable consumption patterns. It has the potential to combat the causes of food waste and spoilage along the food chain and change consumer patterns by providing consumer confidence in products with providence and ethical sourcing. This consumer confidence could catalyze changes towards healthier diets but could also change the potential for farmers in the market place. Farmers could secure a fair price for their products and a stronger relationship between producer and customer could be forged creating an alliance between smallholders and end users. Empowerment for both the producer and consumer can motivate both to make informed, healthy, safe and sustainable choices.

.Additional Links and References

Applying blockchain technology to improve agri-food traceability: A review of development methods, benefits and challenges

The rise of blockchain technology in agriculture and food supply chains

Blockchain practices, potentials, and perspectives in greening supply chains

Blockchain-based life cycle assessment: An implementation framework and system architecture

A review on blockchain applications in the agri‐food sector

Future challenges on the use of blockchain for food traceability analysis


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