These 75 evidence-based innovations could add to our future of farming toolkit
Why is it that some innovations gain mass appeal and uptake, whereas for others all we hear is a fleeting mention and nothing more?
This is part of the problem identified in recent international research, published in Nature Food.
Nano-drones, artificial meat, self-fertilising crops, and soil sensors – these are among the many promising emerging innovations the research team identified with potential to transform our global food system.
The problem? We must embrace them, and, often, we don’t.
The conversation about reforming the food system instead usually revolves around what tools we currently have available, and what we do with them.
This research identifies that for the huge transformations needed to make food systems sustainable, we must look beyond the tools we currently have, toward future technologies.
In their review of dozens of studies, the researchers found 75 emerging innovations that could help to progress us to a more productive and sustainable food system.
The technologies they found would reform all stages of food production: the growth of crops, raising livestock, food processing, packaging, distribution and consumption and waste.
All these technologies have real-world opportunity – but investment is needed to make them truly operational.
The potentially transformative innovations varied in development readiness. Some had already been implemented, while others, such as climate-resilient crops, unfold slowly and were in early stages of development.
The research also highlighted that increased education and discussion around policy change is needed to support innovation in the future, and to boost social trust and acceptance of new innovations and the food products they could create.
Many of the innovations in the study were already changing our food systems and how we eat. Some have been in the spotlight in recent years, such as plant-based meat replacements, the production of insects and seaweed for food, and vertical farming.
Other innovations in the research were in prototyping stage, including biodegradable coatings on fresh produce to slow decomposition and minimise food waste, and microchips able to fully trace the environmental impact of produce.
Still other innovations are freshly-emerging with a growing body of research backing them. Crops are being engineered to photosynthesize better, or to resist heat and drought. Nano-drones less than a few centimeters wide are being created that apply precise, targeted doses of fertilizer and pesticides. Robots are also being trialed on farms to help improve yields.
One part of the challenge is the question of how to generate enough economic support to bring these innovations to market. The researchers say there’s the need to create the right conditions to encourage investment, such as for governments to draw up policies that protect companies who invest in new and risky technologies.
Subsidies, funding and other incentives may also encourage innovation, research and development.
Of course, it will be a monumental global task to foster the conditions needed for these innovations to truly catch on.
But the research argues that food systems of the future will majorly depend on innovation, so figuring out the answer to this task will be key, and ultimately, worthwhile. With such an array of incredible innovations already close to hand, they believe now is the time to boldly step forward and revolutionise the way we produce food.
“We have come to a point where business-as-usual is not an option,” the researchers say.
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