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Technology: Greater Digital Connectivity to Prevent Food/Supply Challenges

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Technology: Greater Digital Connectivity to Prevent Food/Supply Challenges

The world is facing an environmental crisis and a global food shortage simultaneously. Food for a global population that is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 is threatened by climate change, water scarcity, and soil depletion. At the same time, we’re wasting more food than ever before. 

The food industry is responsible for over one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 30% of its energy use. However, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 30%-40% of what we produce never reaches consumers’ plates. Cutting this statistic with better logistics planning and a more robust supply chain will increase the global food supply and benefit the environment simultaneously.

Technology makes farming more efficient and sustainable

We are at the beginning of a new era when it comes to food. Technology transforms every aspect of how we grow, process, and distribute our food by helping us produce more efficiently, reduce waste across the farm-to-fork supply chain, and connect farmers with buyers at scale. It is making us healthier and helping feed the world while reducing waste and carbon emissions in every stage of the supply chain.

On the first link of the chain, greater digital connectivity helps farmers increase the yield, efficiency, sustainability, and profitability of their farms. Today’s innovations allow them to produce the same amount of food while using less land, water, fuel, and chemicals. This is particularly important because agriculture is one of the most significant contributors to human-made environmental change. In fact, where the planet was once primarily forests and grasslands, half of all habitable land is now used for livestock and agriculture production.

Recent advances in data collection, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) help farmers make better decisions about when to plant crops based on weather conditions or how much fertilizer to apply based on soil quality. For example, on modern farms, drones can fly overhead to assess the condition of crops. Through the use of infrared sensors, AI-powered drones detect diseases in plants before they become visible to the naked eye, allowing farmers to treat damaged crops before the disease has time to spread. The drones can also identify areas where insects have attacked plants and allow farmers to spot-target those areas with pesticides, rather than dusting entire fields, helping to increase crop yields and reduce the amount of harmful chemicals that enter our waterways.

New technology saves water by allowing farmers who use irrigation systems to gauge precisely how much water each plant needs. During seasons of surplus rainfall, farmers can now conserve their water supply, and during droughts, they know exactly how much water will be needed to keep their crops alive.

Technology transports food at optimal temperatures across the supply chain

The optimal temperature during transport keeps produce from spoiling prematurely and bacteria at bay. After harvest, cold chain logistics transport perishable food products thousands of miles while maintaining constant temperature control from origin to consumption. The integrity of this network demands access to reliable refrigeration equipment and staff with the skill to operate it properly.

Frederick Jones’s 1930 portable air-cooling unit for trucks has evolved into shipping containers with built-in cooling systems and temperature-controlled aircraft. However, the cold chain involves more than just refrigeration. It is an intricate logistics system incorporating food inspections at customs, anti-contamination measures, and proper documentation for safely transporting, storing, handling, and distributing food.

Until recently, suppliers compromised on quality to meet consumer demand. But today, manufacturers are exploring new technologies that ensure food safety better than ever before.

Technological breakthroughs in packaging protect food from moisture damage, condensation buildup, spoilage, and contamination during transport. New flexible packaging reduces our reliance on harmful plastic bottles, jars, and containers, and lighter containers reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption during transport.

Insulated containers with cooling units reliably transport perishable goods safely for hours — even days — at a time. Monitoring systems track and report the internal temperatures of every refrigerated vehicle, warehouse, and storage unit along the supply chain. From farm to fork, advances in automation and blockchain technology make this data visible.

Technology makes the food supply chain more transparent

Technology is making the entire food supply chain more transparent. Now, we can track food at each step of the supply chain to ensure that every part of our meal is produced sustainably and responsibly.

Today, blockchain technology can track the movement of food through each stage of its journey — from farm to warehouse, to processing facility, to truck, to store or restaurant. Consumers and businesses can determine where food comes from and how long it takes to get there. Now, people at all stages of production and distribution who may have previously been unaware of each other’s existence can connect and coordinate seamless supply chains.

Technology reduces waste across the farm-to-fork supply chain

In 2023, the number of people with access to smartphones soared to 6.92 billion, representing 86.29% of the global population, a massive leap from 2016 when only 3.668 billion people and 49.40% of that year’s global population owned smartphones. This connectivity and widespread access to technology give innovators more tools than ever before that can help solve our global hunger problem.

In homes, this technology reduces food waste by providing recipes that use leftover ingredients. Rather than running to the store for new food, people can cook meals with what they have on hand. 

Technology reduces waste in restaurants by helping managers anticipate how much to order and providing chefs with information about when to use foods before they go bad. In stores, digital signage, and sensors on shelves alert customers to available products at any given time

There is no quick fix for the global food crisis, but thousands of breakthroughs like the ones mentioned above can make farming more efficient and sustainable, reduce food waste during transport, and make the supply chain more transparent. It’s clear that technology has a big role to play in solving the global food shortage. We need more innovative solutions in AI, robotics, and blockchain technologies if we want our world to remain sustainable for generations to come.