Technology Developed for Another Sector Revolutionised Food Production
The world population is increasing rapidly and has reached more than 9 billion. This problem is not only for one nation but for the whole globe where people are facing reduced land issues. The communities are growing and getting more connected, leaving one increasingly important global issue related with food security. But fortunately, technology is helping us to track, analyse, and understand the way our food system works to help in getting the current requirement of food, reduce the amount of food waste and carbon emissions. It is ultimately feeding more than 842 million people who do not have enough to eat currently.
The living standards have been revolutionised by the growing effect of multidisciplinary technology across all spheres of life i.e. social, economic, political, and personal. The revolution of information availability and utility implementation will profoundly affect the world in all these spheres. The technology like biotechnology, Smart materials, agile manufacturing, and nanotechnology will change the way while expanding according to their capabilities whereas biotechnology will enable us to identify, understand, manipulate, improve, and control living organisms.
As the saying which is very common goes, ‘From farm to table’, much about food production has changed – for both farmers and consumers. As everyone is witnessing the change in any other business, farmers also must adapt to this changing world; population is expected to grow to 9.6 billion by 2050. With finite resources, it will take innovations and a variety of technologies to meet the world’s food demand.
This includes using new technologies like biotechnology/genetic engineering which can help produce more food on the same amount of land, without having destroying wildlife habitats.
A 2014 study on “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology,” by International Food Information Council (IFIC), shows that mostly the consumers agree on the concept that modern agriculture i.e. conventional farming using today’s modern tools and equipment, can be sustainable and produce high-quality nutritious foods. The output of the survey was that it is important that their food should be produced in a sustainable way, including producing food affordably with the same or fewer resources, and testing which is better for the environment (IFIC Foundation, Nov18, 2014). “People need to know what’s in it for them.” The consumers believe that who ranked these factors of sustainability as important, most believe there is a role for biotechnology:
• Ensuring a sufficient food supply for a growing global population;
• Producing more food with fewer natural resources;
• Conserving the natural habitat;
• Reducing carbon footprint.
Globally, farmers are working to produce our food year-round, including using technology to safely produce more food, while putting less stress on our natural resources. Farmers can be more selective with more ‘precise’ information at their fingertips, with supplies and resources such as fertilisers, pesticides, tractors, other fuel-run equipment and irrigation water. As a result, they can reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, pesticide applications, soil erosion and water run-off – in turn, improving sustainability.
Consumers develop their attitude towards innovative food technologies by three main factors. First, knowledge or believes about risks and benefits which are correlated with the technology. Second, attitude based on previous experiences, and third, based on higher order values and beliefs.
Various Technologies for Revolutionising Food Production
Satellite for Weather Forecast: The daily weather forecasts have become very important for the farmers. The advancement in this technology has accelerated food production. Weather forecast like severe storm warnings and climate monitoring is using freely available satellite imagery and scientific analysis to help farmers around the world make decisions about what crops to plant and how to allocate their water and land resources. Agriculture community depends on accurate and timely weather and climate information to make informed decisions. “The 10- to 14-day forecast is as critical today as it has ever been,” said Kathryn Sullivan, acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The consumer attitude towards food technologies was not so common in the past and was not so important in food development. Nowadays, the food chain is long and complicated, food and its technologies are diverse, consequently consumers are uncertain about the food quality and safety and find it difficult to orient themselves to the subject. That is why consumer acceptance of food technologies was an important question. However, in these days acceptance of food products very often depends on potential benefits and risks associated with the food. This also includes the technology the food is processed with. Especially innovative food processing technologies are connected to these characteristics and are perceived as risky by consumers.
Acceptance of innovative technologies can be improved by providing non-emotional and concise information about these new technological processes methods. Nevertheless, the overall revolution and trends will continue through much of the developed world. The fast pace of technological development and breakthroughs makes foresight difficult, but the technological revolution seems globally significant and quite likely.
GMOs: The genetically modified organism (GMO) is the creation of biotechnology which is critical in food technology. A GMO is genetically engineered to have certain traits, like herbicide resistance, pest resistance, and increased nutritional value. In 1994, the first modified tomato, the FlavrSavr, was approved by the FDA and put on the market. It quickly led to the development of other seeds, and by 1999, one hundred million acres were farmed with genetically engineered crops. Examples of this include wheat, rice, and other grains. Fish, poultry, and beef are also often modified to increase the quantity of meat by quickening the rate of growth of an animal or by adding proteins or other nutrients to the meat.
Precision Agriculture: Precision agriculture is also known as satellite farming, and refers to the use of GPS tracking systems and satellite imagery to monitor crop yields, soil levels, and weather patterns to increase efficiency on the farm. The use of Precision technology will increase the efficiency on farm so that feeding of 9 billion people by 2050 may become possible. The technology was adopted in the early 1990s, and started with crop yield monitors. Now, there are tools such as weather analysis software and soil testing kits to monitor nitrogen and phosphorous levels. Using these precision technology systems, farmers can pinpoint an exact location in a field to determine how productive the area is so they don’t waste seed, fertiliser, or pesticides. If we analyse it from environmental point of view, farmers can have more sustainable practices and use fewer resources such as water to tend their fields.
Drones: Farms often span large distances, and farmers need help to monitor the productivity of the area. Drones are becoming a popular alternative to extra farm hands or satellites, and advanced technology is making the drones more productive. With drones, farmers can locate precisely where a diseased or damaged plant is, more accurately release fertiliser and pesticides, or take photos and have immediate information about a certain area of the farm.
Internet of Things: Sensors are (and will continue to be) very important to food technology. The ‘Internet of Things’ has already come to the farm in the forms of irrigation technologies, crop yield monitoring. A system called ‘Water Bee’ collects data on soil content and other environmental factors using wireless sensors to reduce water waste.
Food Waste Tracking: Food goes waste and is thrown away each year. With the help of social media and new technology, this can be drastically reduced. Various sites have been developed are being made with apps and web platforms to put the food to good use. In USA, Leloca is an app that helps restaurants minimise waste by allowing people to get deals on food (ranging from 30 to 50% off usually) within 45 minutes of a posting at nearby restaurants.
Hackathons: Food-centric hackathons are popping up around the globe to improve the food industry. It is a movement that is gaining attraction. Food+tech Connect held the first food hackathon, and continues to host them annually, including ones that have tackled the Farm Bill, and the meat and restaurant industries. The Future of Food Hackathon and Forum is an assembly of the leading food innovators, chefs, entrepreneurs, and designers to create solutions for the future of food. It also helps farmers by making them aware about Growing Innovation, an online community to share agricultural innovations and maps of sustainable farms.
GPS Receivers: In agriculture, the use of the Global Positioning System provides benefits in geo-fencing, map-making and surveying. GPS receivers have dropped in price over the years, making them more popular for civilian use. With the use of GPS, civilians can produce simple yet highly accurate digitised map without the help of a professional cartographer.
In Kenya, for example, the solution to prevent an elephant bull from wandering into farms and destroying precious crops was to tag the elephant with a device that sends a text message when it crosses a geo-fence. Using the technology of SMS and GPS, the elephant can roam freely and the authorities are alerted whenever it is near the farm.
Biotechnology: Biotechnology will soon begin to revolutionise life itself. Disease, malnutrition, food production, pollution, life expectancy, quality of life, crime, and security will be significantly addressed, improved, or augmented. Some advances could be viewed as accelerations of human-engineered evolution of plants, animals, and in some ways even humans with accompanying changes in the ecosystem. Research is also under way to create new, free-living organisms.
A broad and multidisciplinary technology revolution is changing the world which is beyond the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Information technology is already revolutionising our lives and will continue to be aided by breakthroughs in materials and nanotechnology with other new technologies. Biotechnology will revolutionise living organisms. Materials and nanotechnology will enable the development of new devices with unforeseen capabilities. Not only have these technologies impacted on our lives, they are also heavily intertwined, making the technology revolution highly multidisciplinary and accelerating progress in each and every area.
Technologies have widespread effects across the globe. Yet, this technology revolution will not be uniform in its effect and will play out differently on the global stage depending on acceptance by the people, investment, and a variety of other decisions. The range of technological possibilities and impacts are foreseeable and will depend on various enablers and barriers. These revolutionary effects are not proceeding without issues. Various ethical, economic, legal, safety, environmental and other social concerns and decisions must be addressed as the world’s population comes to grip with the potential effects these trends may have on their cultures and lives. The most significant issues may be privacy, economic disparity, cultural threats (and reactions), and bioethics. If all these technologies are being used in the right direction, it will certainly revolutionise food productions.
Anju Bharti is an Assistant Professor at Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies.
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