Food and Water

These are the innovators driving impact in future food systems

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Someone holds a handful of deep red strawberries – closeup: Innovative technologies are transforming food systems to address global challenges.

Innovative technologies are transforming food systems to address global challenges. Image: Unsplash/Artur Rutkowski

Noopur Desai
Programme Lead, Food Innovation Hubs, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • Innovative technologies are transforming food systems to address global challenges such as malnutrition, climate change and food waste as well as creating social and economic impacts.
  • A sustainable and equitable food future will require collaboration among diverse stakeholders. The World Economic Forum’s UpLink and Food Innovation Hubs are examples of fostering cooperation among farmers, innovators, governments, and the private sector.
  • Four innovators explain their vision for change and approach to using technologies to reimagine the future of food systems.

Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and transitioning the planet to an equitable climate and nature-positive future by 2050 will require systemic shifts in how food is produced and consumed.

With the current realities of the food systems, the fusion of innovation with purpose becomes not just a choice but a necessity.

Taking a solutions approach, new leaders are emerging in food systems, offering technologies and innovative models of engagement. The potential for innovation is game-changing – from digital services, climate-smart technologies, biologicals, artificial intelligence, earth observation, novel foods, precision nutrition and others.

Innovators will also see further gains as a global agri-tech market worth $20 billion is expected to surpass $40 billion by 2030. However, embracing these solutions at scale will require smart partnerships, customizing and co-design with farmers, governments and the private sector and mobilizing investment to allow for adoption and continuous innovation.

The World Economic Forum’s UpLink and Food Innovation Hubs Global Initiative platforms aim to drive cooperation and a global movement to deliver on the promise of innovation to the more than 8 billion people depending on sustainable and resilient food systems.

We asked four innovators about their vision for change and approach to using technologies to reimagine the future of food systems.

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'Food systems will contribute to job creation, gender equality and climate resilience and adaptation'

Nidhi Pant, Co-Founder, S4S Technologies

Imagine a future where our food system is not only sustainable but also equitable. Picture a world where we address the pressing issue of increasing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring that everyone has enough to eat. This is the vision driving S4S Technologies. We provide smallholder farmers with solar-powered food preservation and processing capabilities at the farm gate.

Our approach is simple yet transformative. We take cosmetically damaged produce, which would otherwise be wasted and turn it into valuable food ingredients using our solar-powered processing systems. By aggregating and processing this produce directly at the farm gate, we not only reduce food waste but also create economic opportunities for farmers.

One of the most rewarding aspects of our work is the impact we have on women farmers. By empowering them with our technology, we enable them to double their profits and break free from the cycle of poverty. Our solution isn't just about economic empowerment; it's about promoting gender equality and social inclusion in agriculture.

'Advances in AI and data analytics will empower farmers to precisely allocate resources, increasing yields while minimizing environmental impacts'

Taher Mestiri, Chairman, SEABEX

The future of food systems hinges on sustainable agricultural practices that effectively tackle the twin challenges of water scarcity and climate change. At the heart of this transformation are farmers, the backbones of agricultural value chains, who hold the key to securing food production while optimizing water usage.

The rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics, can enable farmers to make more informed decisions in resource allocation, enhancing yields while minimizing environmental impacts. Seabex is inspired by this potential.

Seabex's system utilizes advanced algorithms to provide practical insights, reducing guesswork and improving efficiency in irrigation management. Our solution is characterized by highly scalable, sensorless technology, offering simplified irrigation management without requiring significant hardware investments.

'A major shift will change where and how food is grown and produced'

Bronte Weir, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Below Farm

Climate change is reshaping the landscapes and traditional farming practices we've long relied upon, while advancements in agricultural technology open new possibilities for food production. A major shift is coming to the balance of where and how food is grown and produced. At Below Farm, we are reimagining how we produce food in arid climates, by bringing mushrooms to the desert.

Mushrooms have a unique ability to support both human and planetary health. They can be cultivated following circular principles, upcycling by-products of other agricultural industries, without the need for pesticides or fertilizers, using relatively low water. Their reasonably high protein content plus their meaty texture and umami flavour, makes them a healthy meat alternative, as well as offering many, varied functional health benefits.

At Below Farm, we grow mushrooms in the desert in a first-of-its-kind in the region in a climate-controlled mycelium lab using only local materials. Until recently, the only mushroom you could find in a United Arab Emirates (UAE) supermarket was a white button mushroom.

But reducing the vast fungi kingdom and all of the edible mushrooms within it to just that one is equivalent to taking the animal kingdom and all the meat that comes from it and just eating chicken. There is a huge range of diversity in flavour, texture, preparations and health benefits. We saw an opportunity to establish the region’s first localized mushroom farm: from seed to fruit.

'In the future, agriculture will thrive through regenerative practices, embracing fewer chemicals for a healthier, more sustainable tomorrow'

Matias Figliozzi, Economist, Co-Founder and CEO, Unibaio

In envisioning future food systems, it's vital to confront a reality often overlooked: the challenge of producing affordable food for billions hinges on the very pesticides many seek to avoid on their tables. This dilemma underscores the struggle farmers face in transitioning towards more sustainable practices, where innovation must bridge the gap between environmental stewardship and economic viability.

Take, for instance, staple crops like soybeans, corn or cotton, which heavily rely on glyphosate, the world's most utilized and contentious pesticide. Despite the desire for biological alternatives, glyphosate remains irreplaceable for now. The future lies in regenerative agriculture with fewer chemicals. However, it may take decades until we can completely replace them. Combining technologies both in the lab and on the farm can start today to create a sustainable future that feeds everyone.

Unibaio has developed a microparticle derived from natural sources designed to enhance the effectiveness of pesticides and fertilizers. This innovative ingredient facilitates greater absorption of active components by plants, thereby minimizing the harmful runoff associated with conventional agrochemicals. By making bio-alternatives more appealing to farmers, it represents a significant step towards sustainable agricultural practices. The development of this pioneering technology is the culmination of decades of research led by four female scientists from Argentina.

The Food Innovation Hubs Global Initiative will host the premier Food Innovation Conference on 13-15 May in Dubai, UAE. Under the theme “Reimagining Future Food Systems,” stakeholders will exchange knowledge, facilitate partnership opportunities, scale frontier technology solutions, deepen cooperation and accelerate the movement on food systems innovation globally. This high-level event will be hosted by the Forum in collaboration with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, UAE.

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Contents
'Food systems will contribute to job creation, gender equality and climate resilience and adaptation''Advances in AI and data analytics will empower farmers to precisely allocate resources, increasing yields while minimizing environmental impacts''A major shift will change where and how food is grown and produced''In the future, agriculture will thrive through regenerative practices, embracing fewer chemicals for a healthier, more sustainable tomorrow'

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