Dr Andy Zynga explores what innovation trends are right around the corner.
We are faced by a variety of urgent challenges that need to be addressed with innovation from the agrifood community. So, when predicting trends in food innovation, we’d have a lot to cover, however the top trends that stand out for me for 2023 are centred around regenerative agriculture and the role of data.
The return of regenerative agriculture
Regenerative agriculture has been a trend to watch for a while, but it’s not a new trend, it was the trend which launched the neolithic and has existed since our hunter gatherer ancestors started to settle and farm.
Going back to basics, regenerative agriculture seeks to eradicate the need for unnatural intervention in farming, such as reducing the use of chemical herbicides or minimising soil disturbance. This aims to maximise biodiversity on farms, allowing crops and livestock to naturally support one another, and increase the nutrition of produce and health of soils as a result.
However, regenerative agriculture does not mean a return to the stone age. Innovation is now playing a crucial role in its revival, supporting farmers to accelerate their transitions to regenerative practices as we all strive to reach a net zero and healthier food system. This includes the use of digital farming solutions, organic-based fertilisers, and soil health monitoring systems.
France-based startup Toopi Organics, for example, has created a process to collect and transform human urine (a natural fertiliser rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) that can be used as a biostimulant in the agricultural sector. Their innovation is part of a circular, local model that produces zero waste, meaning the process is scalable and replicable for regenerative agriculture across the entire world.
Climate Farmers is also supporting the transition by building infrastructure to scale regenerative agriculture practices. By working directly with farmers, Climate Farmers is gathering best practices from their community and monitoring the results using technology. Climate Farmers then makes these results accessible on an open platform, enabling farmers and stakeholders to assess the positive outcomes of regenerative agriculture for soils, ecosystems, and the climate, which can then be replicated on a local scale.
As more farmers make the transition to regenerative agriculture, we are likely to see more investment into agricultural innovation in 2023. Whether it be through robotics, AI, and automation technologies or nature-based solutions that support biodiversity, the future of farming is an exciting trend to watch.
Dealing with data
Food innovation, including the examples mentioned above, cannot drive positive change without connectivity and transparency.
By collecting and communicating data, statistics, metrics, and insights throughout the entire supply chain, from farm to fork, food system stakeholders can make more informed decisions as they seek to make changes in their systems and processes.
Data and analytics can enable food system stakeholders to use resources more responsibly and implement circular solutions based on evidence, for example. In addition, food traceability as well as environmental food labelling can become commonplace with the help of data, which might have to include setting data standards. As the common phrase states, knowledge is indeed power.
In 2023, the role of data will be crucial. We are one year closer to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and pressure is increasing for businesses to play their part. By using data and insights from other businesses, stakeholders and research programmes, challenges such as reducing food waste and loss in a supply chain can be tackled in a way that optimises results.
An example of this in practice is UK-based start-up Clear CO2’s data platform. Based on carbon accounting, the management tool enables agrifood SMEs to benchmark their carbon footprint reduction plans based on industry data and insights. Faced with challenges such as squeezed profit margins, the platform supports SMEs to make more informed decisions as well as provides them with access to sustainable suppliers and partners in their carbon reduction journeys.
Underpinning all the food innovation trends mentioned above is collaboration. By knowledge sharing and coming together – particularly in times of need – we can accelerate the progress of innovation. As we continue our shared mission of a better food system for all, we must plan and look beyond the horizon, together.
About the Author: Dr Andy Zynga, a member of the New Food Advisory Board, is the CEO of EIT Food, the world’s largest food innovation community working to build a future-fit food system that produces healthy and sustainable food for all. EIT Food is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.