Climate change is adversely affecting agriculture, livelihoods and food security putting millions of lives at risk as the situation continues to decline. Current food systems are already struggling to cope. Today, over 820 million people are suffering chronic undernourishment yet globally, one third of the food produced for human consumption — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — is lost or wasted.

Food security issues can result in loss of life, a decline in well-being, and indirect economic costs. Improving global food security could, therefore, have significant benefits both socially and economically. 

One way to improve food security is to invest in research and development of food innovations that are able to creatively and efficiently produce more food. Recognising successful innovations that farmers are already using and helping to ensure this technology reaches others, is vital for the future of food and agriculture.  Here are five examples of food technological solutions:

1. E-cards for Refugees
In response to the Syrian crisis, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) rolled out an innovative electronic voucher programme in Lebanon that enabled hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to buy food whilst boosting the local economy. Families will receive a card loaded monthly with $27 per person, which can be redeemed against a list of items at participating local stores. That allows them to buy the foods that fit their needs, including fresh produce which is not normally included in traditional food rations. The “e-cards” were developed in partnership with Mastercard and within a year, 800,000 refugees were able to use these electronic cards in participating shops. In turn, in 2013, around the world the ecard programme injected $192mn into the local economies of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

2. 3D Printing Food
Additive manufacturing is changing how we build materials, components, machinery and now food. 3D food printing offers a range of potential benefits for tackling food security issues. Essentially, as long as the ingredients can be puréed, it can be printed. For example, it can convert alternative ingredients such as proteins from algae, beet leaves, or insects into tasty products. This potential means that recent innovations have made possible machines that print, cook, and serve foods on a mass scale. 

According to a market intelligence report by BIS Research, the global 3D food printing market is expected to reach $525.6mn by 2023, rising at an annual rate of about 46% through 2023. This growth is attributed to the rising awareness among the food innovators about the need to elevate food manufacturing systems to meet these global and consumer needs. 3D printers are falling in price and once they are installed, as long as they are maintained, they can be operated anywhere. Therefore, bringing this capability to areas struggling with food security could make a real difference. 

3. Peer-to-Peer Networks  
Across the world, there are over 500 million small-scale farmers who together grow more than 70% of the world’s food. Technology has enabled this agricultural community to connect with one another to solve problems, share ideas, and spread innovation. Wefarm, for example, is the world’s largest farmer-to-farmer digital network. The platform allows farmers to ask questions in their own language on anything related to agriculture, from battling a crop disease to best practices for growing cash crops. Answers are provided using a combination of  machine learning, AI and data, and the knowledge of the farmers themselves. Since inception, over 1.9 million farmers have joined the community and 354.6 million sms messages have been shared between them. 

Meanwhile in Ethiopia, the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), an internationally backed government initiative, set up a hotline for small-hold farmers allowing them to receive updated agronomic information to their cell phones to help plan their operations. The content on the phoneline replicates advice offered as part of Ethiopia’s agricultural extension programme – a longstanding effort to provide farmers with tutorials and inputs such as seeds and fertilisers. The 90 phone lines take an average of 35,000 calls a day.

4. Artificial Intelligence for Pest Control
Agripredict in Zambia, is an ‘agri-tech’ company that leverages artificial intelligence in agriculture as a risk and disaster management tool. Many small hold farmers in Africa experience droughts, diseases and pest infestations that affect livestock and crops, leading to loss of yield and investments. Agripredict uses a simple photo from a phone to detect the presence of pests or diseases. It can also forecast the probability of invasions by pests and predict the possibility of adverse weather patterns such as drought, floods and cold. This gives the farmers an advantage through the ability to plan. The idea holds such potential that it was awarded the 2018 #HackAgainstHunger competition in Rwanda.

5. Culturally competent, digital education
If small-hold farmers are given access to knowledge and resources to maximise their crops, it could make a significant impact on food security issues. However, delivering this content and education is an issue given the geographical disparity between many small-hold farmers. Tech innovation, Digital Green answers this challenge by connecting local farmers with their peers via video training conducted in local languages. It helps smallholder farmers improve their crop quality and boost agricultural production through better financial training, tools and assistance. Exploring topics ranging from crop rotation to good water management, Digital Green’s goal is to enhance farmer extension programmes by marrying the power of digital with the credibility of local community leaders who can boost adoption rates of these new tools and concepts. The concept is supported by the World Food Programme which purchases any surplus crops to source feeding programmes in nearby communities, providing a stable market and supplying food at the same time.

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