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Food production-related technology and innovation: making technology and innovation work well for all across the rural-urban continuum

Aggiornamento: 1 mar

By Martina Mihovska

Over the years, technology has changed the way we produce and find food through new innovations. Technology helps food manufacturers produce more efficiently for a growing world population. There are 7.5 billion people in the world right now and that means a higher demand for food each year. While rural and urban areas are often separated by traditional administrative boundaries, they are deeply interconnected through a variety of complex relationships, potentially unlocking socio-economic benefits for both areas. This article tries to understand the nature of innovation in rural regions and outlines the link between them.

As urban areas become more connected to rural areas, rural producers may also have better access to agricultural inputs and services, for improved productivity that typically increases income levels. Affordable and healthy diets are generally more accessible in urban areas compared to rural regions, as well as food security and better nutrition levels. This is because of improved food availability, higher purchasing power, and better access to essential services like healthcare and education, all vital elements for maintaining health and nutrition levels.

Understanding the changes occurring throughout agrifood systems (i.e. from food production, food processing, and food distribution and procurement, to consumer behavior) requires a rural–urban continuum lens, reflecting the growing connectivity and interlinkages across urban, peri-urban, and rural areas. Those closer linkages among agrifood systems segments create opportunities for a win–win situations in terms of greater economic development and access to affordable healthy diets, which can be seized through investments in infrastructure, public goods, and enhanced capacities that improve rural–urban connectivity. Such investments should support the essential role of small and medium enterprises in agrifood systems, particularly in small and intermediate cities.

Leveraging connectivity across the rural–urban continuum will require adequate governance mechanisms and institutions to coordinate coherent investment beyond sectoral and administrative boundaries. In this regard, subnational governments can play a key role in designing and implementing policies beyond the traditional top-down approach. Approaches to agrifood systems governance should ensure policy coherence among local, regional, and national settings through the engagement of relevant agrifood systems stakeholders at all levels.

One of the most important pathways through which urbanization is driving changes in agrifood systems is through a shift in consumer behavior and diets. Supporting healthier food outlets will be key for enabling access to healthy diets, as this has shown positive impacts on dietary quality.

The areas currently experiencing the most rapid urbanization are those where the link between urbanization, economic growth, and structural transformation is weaker in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, which have some of the highest numbers of individuals who are hungry, food insecure, and malnourished. The two regions are expected to experience the most rapid increases in urbanization, while at the same time facing the biggest challenges regarding poverty, food insecurity, and access to affordable healthy diets.

Digital technologies can guide and facilitate data-driven decision-making at the farm level across the rural–urban continuum by leveraging granular data about fields and animals in conjunction with accurate, timely, and location-specific weather and agronomic data. Across the entire rural-urban continuum, the majority of food consumed is purchased from markets. Hence, the type of diet is determined by cost and affordability, which depends on the structure of agrifood systems, including food supply and value-added chains. 

These factors must be taken into consideration in designing effective policies and investments to ensure rural, peri-urban, and urban populations have access to affordable healthy diets. Rapid urbanization combined with rising incomes is shifting patterns of food supply and demand, accelerating a diet transition.  Consumption is also changing in rural areas, leading agricultural production to diversify towards nutritious foods.

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