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Technology and innovation: a key enabler for agrifood systems transformation under urbanization

By Adele Calello

Technology and innovation are pivotal in reshaping agrifood systems and responding to the challenges posed by urbanization. The increasing urban population amplifies the demand for efficient, sustainable, and technology-driven solutions across the entire food supply chain. In modern farming, precision agriculture integrates advanced technologies such as sensors, drones, and IoT devices. This integration enables the monitoring and management of crop conditions, optimizing resource use, reducing environmental impact, and enhancing overall productivity.

Smart farming practices, characterized by automation and robotics, address challenges stemming from a shortage of skilled agricultural labor in urban areas. These technologies streamline operations, mitigating labor-intensive tasks and contributing to increased efficiency. The rise of vertical farming and urban agriculture presents solutions for meeting the demand for locally sourced produce within urban centers. Controlled environments, facilitated by technology regulating lighting, temperature, and nutrient levels, allow for year-round crop production without the limitations of traditional outdoor farming.

Innovations in the food supply chain, such as blockchain technology, enhance transparency and traceability. With urban consumers increasingly concerned about food origins and quality, blockchain provides real-time information about the entire journey of a food product. The emergence of ag-tech startups focused on urban agriculture and sustainable food systems reflects a growing entrepreneurial spirit. Governments and private sectors can nurture this trend through financial support, mentorship, and the establishment of innovation hubs.

Data analytics and Artificial Intelligence play a pivotal role in predicting crop yields, optimizing irrigation, and preventing diseases. As a partner of the Horizon2020 EWA-BELT Project (GA 862848), OCCAM has developed the PLANT HEAlth Diagnostic (PLANTHEAD) Platform in order to promote real-time diagnosis and environment-friendly crop protection approaches to cope with food insecurity issues. Farmers benefit from valuable insights, empowering them to make informed decisions based on data-driven analyses.

Consumer-focused technologies, including mobile apps, bridge the gap between consumers and local farmers. These apps provide information on sustainable food choices, fostering a direct relationship between producers and consumers and empowering the latter to make informed decisions about their food consumption. In the realm of food waste reduction, innovations in smart packaging and storage technologies extend product shelf life. Additionally, mobile apps informing consumers about expiration dates and offering recipes for using leftover ingredients contribute significantly to reducing food waste.

Addressing climate change concerns, technology supports the development of climate-resilient agriculture. This involves creating drought-resistant crops, implementing weather forecasting tools, and promoting sustainable farming practices. Policy and regulatory support are critical for fostering the adoption of technology in agrifood systems. Governments can play a pivotal role by providing incentives, enacting policies that promote sustainability, and implementing regulations to ensure food safety and security.

In essence, the fusion of technology and innovation holds the promise of transforming agrifood systems to meet the evolving needs of urbanizing societies. These advancements empower stakeholders to build resilient, sustainable, and responsive food systems for the future.


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