Can we envision a regenerative and nourishing food system by 2050? What would that system look like? And what would we have to do today to make that vision a reality?
These are the questions posed to us when we entered the Food System Vision Prize, a global competition held by the Rockefeller Foundation, Second Muse and OpenIDEO. One of the thematic areas that we (and the other 1,315 global competitors who entered) were asked to consider was technology. This is an area that has the potential to move the mountain that is the South African food system towards being fairer and more equal.
Use of Technologies
The development of technology has always made an impact on our food. From the development of the bow and arrow, to the plow, to a wagon to carry and distribute food, to the use of higher yielding varietals of crops and to refrigeration. But we find ourselves on the precipice of the next evolution of our global food system. We are seeing the use of digital technology, artificial intelligence, drones, of new ways of growing and distributing food, and many more technologies gaining traction. And this comes at a time when this is urgently needed, with climate change creating uncertainty in food production, with rapid changes in eating habits and population growth, while we are facing rapid degradation of our soil.
Internationally, we have been seeing a dramatic increase in funding for Agri-FoodTech. According to AgFunder, an investor and commentator in the space, there has been a 6 times increase in venture capital investment from 2012 to 2019 (to $20 billion in 2019). This indicates that investors are expecting that the use of these technologies will grow rapidly in the next few years. Locally, we are also seeing investors starting to do the same, with Napsers, for example, investing R100 million in 2020. This is good news for the food system and great news for those who are thinking of entering the space.
But will this new evolution be fair?
We do face challenges with this forecasted change though. How do we ensure that we see a better distribution of food, with an end to world hunger? How do we ensure that everyone’s need for healthy and culturally appropriate food is guaranteed? Also, will this change also seriously and pro-actively take into account sustainability and environmental impact?
Many are seeing the potential of these technologies in assisting smallholder farmers who are servicing more localised markets (and with a lower carbon footprint). Investors are seeing that potential too, with Microsoft, for example, investing R40 million locally to boost technologies that would benefit smallholder farmers. We believe in a bottom-up approach, where people have the power to decide for themselves what they believe is appropriate to be grown, where people can ensure their own health needs are being met, that their environment is safe, and that what they are producing will have a lasting impact for generations to come.
Technology is able to assist in giving people more choices (by, for example, allowing farmers and customers to connect directly, which would offer more localised choices, at a locally appropriate price), in allowing farmers to access information and share learnings, or in ensuring there is a redirection of food that would otherwise be wasted. Technology has the power to create a more open and fair food system, by given people access that they would not otherwise be able to attain.
FEED has created an Innovation Prize that we will be launching in the coming days to promote technologies that will benefit South Africa. Do stay tuned by pre-registering here!