The age of foodtech: Optimizing the agri-food chain with digital technologies
This article published in the book Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Through Sustainable Food Systems reviewed emerging applications of technologies like the Internet of Things, distributed ledger technologies and Artificial Intelligence at various phases of the agri-food chain, focusing in particular on smart and precision farming, value chain integrity, personalized nutrition and the reduction and prevention of food waste. Foodtech, intended as the use of disruptive digital technologies along the agri-food chain, features an outstanding potential to contribute to the SDGs, and in particular to help combat and eradicate hunger without a massive increase in food production. The paper shows that it is important that the focus is not limited to one single technology, but to the whole “technology stack”, including sensing, big data analytics, 5G, blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. Moreover, weaker players such as small farmers and consumers are often unable to make the most of these technological developments, and this requires dedicated action in terms of training and education. Furthermore, blockchain and Artificial Intelligence can massively contribute to improving the agri-food chain: however, they feature important governance challenges, which can lead to undesirable re-intermediation effects (in the case of blockchain); and loss of user self-determination and agency, as well as privacy and integrity (in the case of Artificial Intelligence). Finally, any solution that relies on digital technologies will need to be inclusive, otherwise the risk will be to widen the digital divide: more generally, FoodTech needs to develop in way that is compatible with all SDGs, not only those related to the agri-food sector.