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Is AgriTech the answer?

Cambridge News have partnered with SmithsonHill to develop a series of posts to engage the local community in one of our areas biggest contributors to our everyday life – agriculture.

Global Food Shortage: is AgriTech the Answer?

At the start of this year, we saw supermarkets rationing lettuces after severe weather in the Mediterranean destroyed crops and interrupted harvests.  These climactic disruptions resulted in the yield of some crops falling by about 25% on last year, leading to prices rising by 25-40%.

It may not be obvious as we go about our everyday food shop, but we already have a global food shortage on our hands.  Whilst we have made some progress in reducing global hunger over the last 20 years, in 2015, whilst developing their new Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations estimated that nearly 800 million people were still under-nourished.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts the earth’s population is due to grow to 9 billion people before 2050 and that production needs to increase by up to 100% to ensure enough food for everyone.   This includes the need to produce more food to meet the commitment in the Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate hunger by 2030.

What can be done?

The solution, potentially, lies right under our noses – AgriTech.

Not heard of AgriTech? Local expert Martin Collison explains:

“Sectors including Biosciences, Health and Life Sciences, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Engineering can be brought together to create new Agricultural Technologies, or AgriTech, to help solve the problem of global food shortage.”

By integrating AgriTech into farming we can work to increase crop production and yields; minimise input and costs (to both consumer and farmer) and reduce global food waste.

Technologies such as weather prediction, robotics, cloud data, new crop genetics and more are being applied to agriculture every day. For example expertise in how crops grow, drones and cloud-based systems are being combined to create software, which helps farmers increase crop yield whilst reducing pesticide use.  Other companies are working to create crops which can grow in harsher environments or which use water more efficiently.

Martin states: “The UK’s AgriTech Sector is growing quickly as we learn more about how to translate our scientific expertise into new innovative commercial solutions for agriculture which help us deliver future food sustainability.”

Cambridge, at the heart of the most productive agriculture region in the UK, is home to many establishments working in food science, research and commercialisation, including the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), AstraZeneca and Cambridge University’s own Global Food Security Group. It hosts many companies that are working on crop and technology trials and, overall, is making a rapidly growing contribution to meeting global food supply challenges.

Martin continues: “Cambridge’s track record in stimulating new technologies, supporting start-up and spin-out companies is being applied to AgriTech, helping to ensure that the region is at the forefront of this emerging sector.  But the challenge is global, large scale and long term in nature and will require ongoing investment.  The prize is delivering solutions that contribute toward future food sustainability and inspiring new technologies – not only within agriculture but in other sectors as well.”

AgriTech is changing farming across the globe and working to ensure a regular supply of food and drink products in our supermarkets, which is great news for all of us.

But let’s help ourselves out a little too – the next time you go shopping, buy only what you need. Reducing our food waste is just a small step we can undertake ourselves to ensure food sustainability for all.

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