In our previous Viewpoint we looked at some of food stakeholders in the food system. The food system value chain is vast and complex, with all of us having a stake in the very least as consumers. There is more than 1 billion people involved in agriculture alone, when we start to add food retailers, restaurants, logistic partners etc., we realize that this number includes a significant portion of the human population that actively creates value in the food system. And we can expect that it’s no easy task to make changes to this system.
This is where technology comes in. Through the ages, technology has played a major role in changing the ways in which produce, distribute and consume food. And we believe that, in the Information Age, technology has already and will, even more so, play a major role in the next evolution of our food system. We are finding huge applicability of new technologies across the food system.
One of those areas that we are seeing transformation in is in Agriculture Technology or simply AgriTech. Agriculture Technology, from Wikipedia, “is the use of technology in agriculture, horticulture, and aquaculture with the aim of improving yield, efficiency, and profitability. Agricultural technology can be products, services or applications derived from agriculture that improve various input/output processes.” So basically technology to assist and improve the production of food, very much technology for the agriculture sector. Some new technologies that are coming to fore in changing this section of the food system include AI, drones, Internet of Things and a number of internet-based solutions, for example apps that identify diseases on crops or websites that create online access to markets for farmers.
Another area is FoodTech, which refers more to technologies that affect the food system upstream from production. This could include processing technologies for raw food produced, production of secondary products (oat milk, chocolate bars, instant meals etc.) and preservation of food but could also refer to food delivery apps (like UberEats and MrD in South Africa) and robotic kitchens for example. So food technology could include technology for post production and manufacturing of food items, and technology used in distributing or serving food to consumers.
A More Holistic Approach
There has been a move towards taking a more holistic view of the food system and how individual components interact with each other. And technology is playing a major role in that. So, for example, can a food delivery app be used to deliver fresh produce to farmers? Or if an app does provide market access for farmers (i.e. allowing farmers to sell directly to consumers or retailers), can it also be used to sell inputs like seeds and fertilizer to those farmers. We are finding more and more solutions that are not looking at areas in isolation. This approach, while possibly introducing complexity in solutions, can also provide better, diversified revenue streams for solutions, making them more sustainable overall while creating more value for users of those solutions.
Food Equity, Equality and Democracy
One of the most exciting aspects of technology for us right now is the potential for technology to enable a fairer, more equal food system in South Africa. As an organization, we are currently focusing on Internet-based solutions that have the ability to spread rapidly via the Internet (and thus have the potential to create greater impact relatively quickly) and at a relatively low cost. We have seen that these technologies have the ability to improve access to information, inputs and markets, to streamline supply chain and to reduce operational costs. This is particularly good for smaller stakeholders, as these solutions are lowering the barriers to entry into the food system. Individuals and communities are beginning to gain access to resources that once was only available to large organizations.
We are currently running the Inqola FEED Innovation Prize, looking for technological ideas and solutions that will have the ability to make a big impact in the food system in South Africa. Find out more here:- Inqola FEED Innovation Prize | Food Equity, Equality and Democracy