The role of technology innovation in accelerating food systems transformation

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By 2050, global food systems will need to sustainably and nutritiously feed more than 9 billion people while providing economic opportunities in both rural and urban communities. Yet our food systems are falling far short of these goals. A systemic transformation is needed at an unprecedented speed and scale. At the same time, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is driving disruptive technology innovations across many sectors. Agriculture and food systems have been slow to benefit from these developments – the sector lags significantly behind in harnessing the power of technology and making it widely accessible.

This report, developed by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with McKinsey & Company, identifies emerging technology innovations that have the potential to drive rapid progress in the sustainability, inclusivity, efficiency and health impacts of food systems to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Focusing on 12 key technology applications, it estimates the concrete benefits which could be delivered in terms of reduced water usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and food waste; increased productivity and farmer income; and reduced obesity and undernourishment of consumers. It highlights the significant economic, environmental and health benefits that could be realized through the broad adoption of certain technologies and enabling actions that can support and scale them. It recognizes that technology is just one of a wide range of solutions that need to be applied in tandem to transform food systems and that a “systems leadership” approach is needed to engage all stakeholders towards that shared goal.

Collective actions by farmers and consumers are key to driving transformational change in food systems. At the same time, actions are needed to create conducive enabling environments that encourage producers, business owners, researchers, investors and policymakers to innovate in ways that promote gender equality and opportunities for youth. This element focuses on lesson learning from actions that build capacity and empower farmers, consumers, women and youth and their networks as part of the efforts to drive demand-driven solutions.

   Conflict and Global Food Security

Agriculture is behind many sectors in the application of information and communication tools. This element focuses on addressing this gap, and generating lessons for application of digital tools, disruptive technologies and big data, in extension, early response systems and adaptive safety nets.

Technologies and practices which enhance resilience and enable farmers to take low emissions development pathways are crucial, and the focus of this element is to identify emerging innovations and lessons from their application, including innovative ideas for scaling up technologies and practices.

Innovative finance to leverage public and private sector investments
This element focuses on mobilizing the finance needed to drive a food systems transformation, identifying financial mechanisms to de-risk private capital (for example, blended finance), including incentives for technology uptake.

Reshaping supply chains, food retail, marketing and procurement
This element takes cognizance of the need for system-wide actions to drive transformation, and focuses on reshaping supply chains from farm to fork, including new models of business-to-business coordination, new diets and consumer choices and efforts to manage food loss and waste.

Fostering enabling policies and institutions
This element recognizes the central and complementary role that enabling policies and institutions play to support transformation. The focus will include innovative approaches to policy design and implementation, land governance and reforms, and trade rules, among others.