Technology's potential to tackle climate change in global agri-food systems
A pilot review of several initiatives supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) found there is potential for technological innovations developed through the STFC to help alleviate climate change through their application in the agri-food sector.
The initiatives represent a promising sample of interdisciplinary projects that bring together new and emerging technologies with food systems challenges.
Climate change poses significant challenges to global agri-food systems, with the potential to affect all aspects of food security. It has already been linked to decreases in crop yields due to drought, flooding and changing rainfall patterns, with corresponding effects on food prices.
To add to this challenge, the agri-food system also contributes to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly at the agricultural production stage. As demand for food continues to rise, the agri-food system will need to produce more food while limiting GHG emissions, in order to sustainably feed a growing population. Technological advances could be a key enabler in tackling this issue.
RAND Europe, with support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Food Network+ (SFN), conducted a pilot study to identify trends, opportunities and constraints in the use of emerging technologies to address climate-related challenges within the agri-food system.
The study served as a pilot for identifying innovations with the potential to mitigate climate change, and can be used to inform and test the potential for future research on the topic.
The project team carried out a review of a number of SFN-supported initiatives, which represent a promising sample of interdisciplinary projects that bring together new and emerging technologies with food systems challenges. The team synthesised the collected data to see if such initiatives demonstrate any trends and potential for GHG emissions reduction.
Though based on a small sample of projects, findings suggest there is potential for technological innovations developed through the STFC to help alleviate climate change through their application in the agri-food sector. These opportunities and their associated challenges merit further exploration, potentially as part of a larger-scale foresight exercise to more specifically identify relevant emerging technologies.
Several trends in the application of emerging technologies were identified from the review of SFN projects. For example, the use of sensing and imaging technologies were one of the most common technological applications amongst the projects reviewed, while large scale data science capabilities and data sharing also featured in several projects.
Interviewees noted a number of opportunities, considerations and constraints in the development and implementation of SFN-funded projects, including the importance of bringing together members of different communities and the challenge of funding constraints.
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Based on a series of foresight exercises for the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), researchers developed a global food systems map, a map of systemic interdependencies, and a framework for future action to help the FSA achieve its goals.
As digital technology becomes more relevant in diverse aspects of our economy and society, it is important to anticipate changes in technology and how we use it. This understanding is particularly important for Horizon 2020, the EU’s 7-year research and innovation funding programme.