Did you know that 1 in 9 people worldwide are undernourished and experience food insecurity on a daily basis, despite the rising prevalence of obesity and food waste? Seem surprising? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, this reality will continue well into 2050 – unless food production increases by 70%.
When you add the FAO’s statistic to a growing world population; never-ending famine and war; and dwindling supply of clean water, sustainable energy, and nutrient-rich land, the production and distribution of food is becoming a critical topic. Farmers are forced to produce higher yields with shrinking natural resources and fewer chemicals traditionally used.
Can the digital world save us?
Many sustainable food advocates are placing their bets on technology and scalability. However, as Tom Laskawy, founder and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, warned, “Our hope for a technological fix to ensuring that adequate food is produced in a sustainable way for a growing population is a crutch similar to putting our hopes in geoengineering to solve the existential threat of climate change: It’s a theoretical, some might say fantastical, solution to problems we know how to solve but don’t really want to.”
Although I agree that technology alone cannot fix the entire problem, I do believe that technology will be the great enabler – and maybe even the great equalizer – of our innovative ideas for distributing food to the masses.
Milano Expo 2015: Reimagining food production and distribution
Thanks to Milano Expo 2015, an estimated 20 million people will get to see firsthand what the future of food production and distribution will look like in an increasingly digital world. According to Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” is devoted to innovation that addresses food, agriculture, healthy nutrition, and safe nutrition. “These are issues that are very, very important these days for every country in the world,” he notes. “All of this against the backdrop of this dramatic need, we have to find a way to feed 9.5 billion people on this planet by 2050.”
Throughout the Expo, a number of exhibits highlight the potential of digital innovations in the future of food. Here are three key issues that are being reimagined through digital technology:
- Wider access to modern energy. Nearly 3 billion people (20% of the world’s population) have no access to electricity. Plus, 2.6 billion people (38% of the world’s population) live without clean cooking facilities. Innovations that provide access to water and food can help reduce extreme poverty, encourage the development of agriculture and other productive activities, and enhance human well-being through equality, education, and healthcare.
- Feeding knowledge to solve food insecurity. In cooperation with research and innovation organizations focused on food insecurity, the Expo Milano is creating a network for knowledge building and sharing to pinpoint real solutions for food insecurity. The initiative “Feeding Knowledge” provides an opportunity for researchers and worldwide figures from academia and politics to exchange ideas, expertise, and research. Currently, more than 2,500 researchers and 3,400 organizations and institutions are registered and using the online platform. In addition, the platform houses a database of more than 800 articles and scientific papers open to the community.
- Our future IoT-based relationship with food. The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the interaction between consumers and products. Thanks to its ability to bring transparency and information sharing, the IoT is reimagining the production, distribution, preparation, and consumption of food. Through a solid information network, the public will be more aware of what we consume in terms of nutritional value, sustainability, and ingredients.
As our world becomes more and more digitized, virtually every area of our lives has the potential to be democratized. With the technology, information, and multidisciplinary design available to us, it is my hope that access to safe, nutritious food is soon realized by every citizen on this planet.
For more on how the digital age is changing the world we live in, see Big Data, The Internet Of Things, And The Fourth V.