Technology is shaping the future of food, but traditional practices can play a role

Fruit and vegetable allotment on the outskirts of Henley-on-Thames, England.

David Goddard | Getty Images News | Getty Images

From oranges and lemons grown in Spain to fish caught in the wild Atlantic nature, many are content to choose the ingredients for our dishes.

But as concerns about the environment and sustainability grow, the debate about how and where we grow food becomes more urgent.

This debate became a hot topic in the UK last month when Part Two of the National Food Strategy, an independent review commissioned by the UK government, was announced.

The detailed report, led by restaurateur and entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby, focused primarily on the UK food system. He came to some interesting conclusions.

The executive summary said the food we eat, and the way we produce it, “is terribly damaging to our planet and our health.”

The publication states that the global food system is “the main cause of biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution and collapsing aquatic life.” The report also claimed to be “the second largest contributor to climate change after the energy industry”.

Dimbleby’s report is an example of how alarms are sounded for food systems, and the term used by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations covers everything from production and processing to distribution, consumption and disposal.

According to the FAO, the food system consumes 30% of the energy available on earth. “The modern food system relies heavily on fossil fuels,” he added.

All of the above certainly provide some food for thought. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the ideas and concepts that CNBC’s sustainable future can change the way we think about agriculture.

Growing up in the city

Much smaller than the more established methods, many interesting ideas and technologies related to urban food production are gaining momentum and starting to gain worldwide attention.

Consider hydroponics, which the Royal Horticultural Society describes as “the science of growing plants without using soil by giving them mineral nutrients dissolved in water.”

In London, companies like Growing Underground are using LED technology and hydroponic systems to produce greens 33 meters below the surface. According to the company, their crops are grown year round in a controlled, pesticide-free environment using renewable energy.

Growing Underground focuses on the “hyperlocal” and claims that the leaves can be “picked, wrapped and placed in the kitchen in 4 hours”.

Another company that is trying to establish its position in this area is Crate to Plate. The company focuses on the vertical cultivation of lettuce, herbs and leafy vegetables. The process takes place in a container 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8.5 feet high.

Like Growing Underground, the Crate to Plate facility is based in London and uses hydroponics. The key idea behind your business is that you can grow vertically to maximize space and minimize the use of resources.

Technically everything from humidity and temperature to water supply and air flow is monitored and regulated. Speed ​​is also important to a company’s business model.

“We aim to deliver everything we harvest within 24 hours,” company CEO Sebastien Sainsbury recently told CNBC.

“The restaurant tends to arrive within 12 hours, retailers arrive within 18 hours and the courier service is guaranteed within 24 hours,” he said, explaining that the delivery was made using of an electric vehicle. .. “All the energy consumed by the farm is renewable.

Do you cultivate

The potential for tech-driven aboveground companies like the one above is exciting, but some argue we need to get back to basics.

In the UK, where the majority of the population is working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kleingarten, a pocket of land rented and used to grow plants, fruits and vegetables, appears to be gaining popularity.

In September 2020, the Association for Public Service Excellence conducted an online survey of UK local governments. In particular, we asked respondents if there had been a “significant increase in demand” for packages allocated as a result of Covid-19. Almost 90% said they had it.

“This alone shows the value of citizens and the desire to reconnect with nature through farm ownership,” said APSE. “It may also reflect a new interest in becoming more self-reliant, with citizens using quotas to grow their fruits and vegetables.”

In a comment e-mailed to CNBC, a spokesperson for the National Allocation Association told landowners that they would “exercise healthy, relax, interact with nature and their seasons.” He said he provided an opportunity to grow his food.

The NAS believed that UK municipal farms could “support public health, strengthen social cohesion and significantly contribute to food security,” a spokesperson said.

Large church

Nicole Kennard is a doctoral candidate at the Grantham Center for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield.

In a phone interview with CNBC, she highlighted how the term “urban agriculture” can refer to everything from farms and vegetable gardens to community gardens and urban agriculture.

“Obviously, not all food is produced by urban agriculture, but it can play a major role in feeding the community,” she said.

There were other positives, such as flood and heat mitigation. “It’s… all the advantages of having green spaces in general, but there are more advantages, [which] This means that they produce food for local consumption. “

Especially for urban agriculture, Kenard said it offered an “opportunity to create a localized food system” that consumers could support.

“You can help the farms you know, the farmers you know, and the farmers who also contribute to your community,” she says, and those types of relationships are others. He admitted that it could also be built as a type of farm.

Future prospects

The debate about how and where we produce food will continue for a long time as businesses, governments and citizens seek ways to build sustainable systems that meet everyone’s needs.

It’s probably not surprising that some of the above topics are starting to grab the attention of the investment community.

At CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe in June, Jessica Alsford, Global Head of Sustainability Research at Morgan Stanley, highlighted the change.

“As you say, it is certainly controversial to look further into the value and supply chain beyond how to play the more obvious green theme,” she said.

“But, like I said, sustainability covers a lot of different topics,” Alsford said. “And there are a lot of questions from investors who want to go beyond the pure green theme and look into related topics such as the future of food and biodiversity.”

For Sainsbury’s in Crate to Plate, knowledge sharing and collaboration have the potential to play a major role in the future. In an interview with CNBC, he stressed the importance of “coexisting with existing agricultural traditions”.

“Strangely enough, the farmers visited this place because they were very interested in installing this kind of technology… on their farms… because they could supplement their income…”

“We are not here to compete with farmers and steal their businesses. We want to compensate for what farmers grow.

Technology is shaping the future of food, but traditional practices can play a role

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About Cassondra Durden

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