In principle, these emerging technologies are the game changers for sustainability revolution because they provide these following enabling attributes (Lacy et al, 2020). First, they are enablers for optimal efficiencies, and thus minimize losses and wastage. Second, they are enablers for innovative business models as they allow new players to disrupt the existing markets while challenging the incumbent players to revisit their current approach and pivot into new business models and new market. Third, these technologies are enablers for greater transparency of information, by allowing both producers and consumers to gather and analyze the data quickly to obtain valuable insights through new levels of data transparency, connectivity and flexibility. Finally, they are enablers for regenerative and restorative systems, by allowing us to move away from the use of traditionally-limited or resource-intensive materials.
The following are some examples of innovation across the value chain to transform our food system that include technological advances, but not limited to:
1. Smart urban farming
Technological advances in urban agriculture/aquaculture will be needed to supply part of food recipe that are designed for planetary health diet (PHD) in Metro Manila. Urban farming will include community urban gardening in idle land, rooftop farming, and indoor vertical farming across the city’s landscapes. For example, rooftop farming in building where essentially mini-forests are established, can employ best practices in agro-forestry in permaculture setting. In addition, biological technologies such as aeroponics, hydroponics and aquaponics can also be used in a specially- designed greenhouse. Accordingly, these soil-free biological systems will need portable or water-resilient “climate-controlled spaces” that allow easy installation or set-up in limited spaces atop buildings or water bodies.
In vertical farms, these food production systems thus allow for a higher yield of crops needed due to its capacity to produce in layers given the limiting factor of space. Aeroponic system is in fact, originally designed by NASA for outer space to explore efficient methods of growing plants in an air or mist environment with no soil and very little water. In contrast, hydroponics use nutrient-enriched water to cultivate the plants, while recycling nutrient solution to conserve water. Aquaponics on the other hand is considered as an improvement of hydroponics as it is an integrated bio-system that combines hydroponic plant production with recycled aquaculture (e.g., fish farming). For example, fish can be grown indoors, and produce nutrient-rich waste that is re-used as a feed source for the plants in the system. The plants then act as filters for the wastewater, which is then recycled back into the fishponds. This kind of “controlled” bio-systems provides efficiency and circularity since the product of one biological system serves as nutrients for the other while generating two food products, vegetable and fish from one ecosystem. Accordingly, technological advances in aquaponics system to make it cost-effective and easy to operate for urban farmers will be needed toward a nourishing food system that includes a sustainable urban aquaculture/mariculture.
Technological advances in smart urban farming will require the combination of biological, physical and digital technologies. For example, improved optical devices or sensors are needed to detect weeds from plants and use robotics for automatically direct picking of undesired plants. Smart sensors are used to monitor the use and recycling of water, as well as the use of LED grow lights that produce the necessary light spectrum to stimulate plant growth within indoor facilities. Moreover, image processing technologies help these sites monitor plant growth and forecast potential yield per cropping which helps address supply-demand gaps appropriately. A startup company such as Aerofarms has been using aeroponics and predictive data analytics for superior and consistent agricultural productivity that reduces resource consumption and waste generation, while increasing quality output. The fusion of these three different types of technology (i.e., biological, physical and digital) is needed to revolutionize smart urban farming while providing solutions that are cost-effective and scalable. For example, green buildings that are carefully designed to integrate renewable energy can house these intensive vertical indoor farming systems. Physical technologies such as off-the-grid energy harvesting technologies will be needed to shift the urban farming and food production process to a system that are resource-efficient, while maximizing yield and minimizing maintenance. Plants grown, e.g., in aeroponic systems are known to contain more vitamins and minerals, which make food produced from such system a healthier choice.
2. Precision farming systems or smart agriculture/aquaculture 4.0.
Farming systems may embark on diversification, intensification, and integration of different farming ventures such as crops (rice, vegetables, etc.), livestock, aquaculture, mushroom, fruit trees and biomass recovery system. For “industrial farmers”, as products from such farm will be taxed for natural resource consumption, they will need to produce more with less input resources by leveraging such technologies from precision farming. Smart/precision farming combines a set of digital technologies that include cloud computing and artificial intelligence, predictive data analytics, internet of things, machine-to-machine communication, mobile devices in combination with sensors, enhanced machinery, and satellite navigation and positioning technology. For artisan farmers, this will include scaled-down technologies for automated drip irrigation system and the PhilRice “capillarigation” systems for agricultural crops. An automated energy efficient building facility in farms can also be designed to adjust microclimates and auto-dispensing of water and feeds; thus, providing optimum environments for enhancing the growth of animals in livestock barns and poultry. Key technologies such as software system, GPS guidance, control systems, sensors, robotics, drones, autonomous farming vehicles, GPS-based soil sampling, automated hardware and telematics will thus be needed in smart agriculture 4.0. It may use living organisms such as plants that are able to provide visual signals of incipient pests and diseases or of nutrient deficiencies that can be sensed by optical sensors. These sensors are linked to a computer system, robots or drones to address the infestation or replenish the lacking nutrient. Stresses that crops experience are also assessed, which helps aid in decision-making for crop protection management. This provides a decision support system and infrastructure to optimize production by accounting for variability and uncertainties within food ecosystems. For example, drones will help farmers locate precisely where diseased or damaged plant is, more accurately release fertilizer and pesticides, take photos and have immediate information about a certain area of the farm. The use of such drone technology was already tested at PhilRice in 2019 to evaluate its potential in wet direct-seeded rice production.
Additive manufacturing/3D printing technologies will also play an important role in smart farming 4.0 to increase farm’s productivity and self-sufficiency. 3D printing can produce a wide range of goods (i.e. customized farm equipment and/or spare parts) due to its flexibility to easily switch from one product category to another. Thus, it can supply a cheaper specific farm needs in shortest time possible relative to the imported ones. This will help improve farm operation efficiency and reduce cost of production.
These enumerated technological advances will help not only industrial farmers but also artisan farmers/fisherfolks to make regenerative farming practices more customized, accurate and precisely controlled particularly in producing locally and seasonally accepted food while reducing the production costs and environmental impact of farming. Smart agriculture 4.0 will enable them to maximize the use of limited land for planting a diversity of crops that are in demand by consumers, and to increase yields per hectare. For example, Zenvus is a precision farming startup that deliver solutions to small-size African farms at a cost that farmers can afford. They improve farm productivity and reduce input waste by using data analytics to facilitate data-driven farming practices for small holder farmers. It uses real-time soil sensing technologies to measure and analyze soil data like temperature, nutrients, and vegetative health to help farmers apply the right fertilizer, and optimally irrigate their farms.
3. Next-generation fertilizers and pesticides.
Shifting away from the conventional fertilizers and pesticides brought by green revolution at the mid-20th century is another pathway toward the environmental sustainability of food ecosystems. Residues from applying synthetic chemical pesticides have resulted to some undesirable effects on the environment and public health. Moreover, our current food production is the primary driver behind the excessive use of nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) that are found in fertilizers, which end up in our water bodies causing eutrophication.
Our current agri-food systems rely heavily on fossil phosphorus, i.e., fertilizers derived from mined phosphate rocks to increase crop yield; but this nonrenewable resource can only be mined economically and traded by only few countries such as China and Morocco. With the long-term demand for such non-substitutable plant macronutrient increases to feed our growing population, the rising cost of phosphate-based fertilizer is becoming a threat to global food security. Advances in biological and physical technologies are needed to design next-generation fertilizers such as controlled-release fertilizers and bio-based fertilizers to slow down the depletion of this fossil phosphorus and minimize systems losses. These next-generation fertilizers are biogenic-based fertilizers typically in the form of organic fertilizer and organic soil improver, but there will also be a need to use mineral by-products to increase the value of these organic fertilizers. Developing this kind of fertilizers also provides an opportunity to upcycle human excreta for nutrient recycling while closing the human P cycle at the agri-food production or human waste treatment. Technological advances will thus be needed that can turn P from bio-inaccessible forms into bio-accessible forms, and yet spatially confined for plant use to minimize the losses.
In addition, fundamental materials research and agri-biotechnology could lead not only to the design and deployment of biofertilizers, but also biopesticides. This includes soil microbiome that can enhance soil nutrient utilization by the plant as well microorganisms that can help the plants from pests. In the future, consumers will then be more conscious and would prefer those foods produced from sustainable food systems resulting to lower environmental footprint, e.g., those plant foods grown using these biofertilizers and biopesticides.
4. Food manufacturing 4.0: designed and engineered for PHD.
We have been using biotechnology and genetic engineering not only to produce food for primary productivity and nutritional quality traits but also for climate resilience. More advances in biological technologies such as that of precise DNA-editing technology (CRISPR-Cas9), synthetic biology and cellular agriculture will be needed to engineer food with more nutraceutical value and lower environmental footprint. Artisan farmers will benefit from such technologies by having new varieties and crops that can supply the nutritional needs of individuals according to age groups and health status. There will be varieties high in specific nutraceutical to aid the health with minimal drug intervention. There will also be varieties with no/little allergens for the sensitive population. With these technologies, food manufacturers will also create new products and flavors from the food ingredients designed for PHD. It would not be surprising that future food products will be diverse ranging from peanuts that do not trigger allergies, and lentils that have a protein content equivalent to meat to meat-free meats and dairy-free dairy products.
A startup such as the US-based Impossible Foods produce meat made from plants using such technologies. They have burgers made from genetically modified soy, and its characteristic "bleed" comes from soy leghemoglobin that's made from genetically engineered yeast. Another plant-based meat company is This.co that offers its customers wide option of products, ranging from meals that are “ready to cook” to meals that are “ready to eat”. These are all made with plant-based meat alternatives. Furthermore, they ensure their products are full of iron and B12, high in protein, have a longer shelf-life than real meat to help reduce waste, and uses 90% less plastic to package.
Advances in AI algorithm and processes for continuous feedback will also be needed by food designers to redesign food products. For example, the Chilean NotCo (The Not Company) has used an AI platform to create a recipe for a mayonnaise called Not Mayo, which tastes like mayonnaise but replaces eggs with plant-based ingredients. These are just some examples of how technologies will be used by agripreneurs to build manufacturing tools that harness fewer resource-intensive ingredients and reinvent the food supply web.
Furthermore, food processing and food preparation systems technologies will also involve scaled-down machines that can process small volumes of standardized inputs for home-based or small-industry (e.g., restaurants) consumption. For example, advances in physical technologies such as 3D printing and robotics for food manufacturing will transform kitchen as creative space not only for skillful chefs but also for ordinary consumers at home. As this technology is emerging to print not only sugar-based food ingredients but also other savory and fresh ingredients, 3D-printed food will offer opportunities to create intricate dishes that are impossible to create by human hands alone. For example, researchers from Korea have developed a process and printer for 3D printing of food and customized it to be healthier for human consumption. This prototype 3D printer has 357 nozzles and create the “ink” for the machine through flash freezing and grounding the food ingredients. These powders were then mixed with water and thickening agents such as carrageenan to be sprayed through the machine and made into solids using low heat. Through the advancement of this technology, consumers such as foodie hobbyist will create flavorful foods without sacrificing nutritional value by carefully balancing the ingredients in their cartridge combinations.
5. Platform for sustainable food supply chain.
Advances in the application of blockchain technology will also be needed to improve safety, traceability and transparency in the food supply chain. For example, the improved traceability in logistics through blockchain will help consumers and retailers with information detailing the origin, farming techniques used, environmental impacts, and nutritional content, among others. In combination with other digital technologies such as AI and cloud computing, this kind of food informatics will be needed to make an informed purchasing decision or enhance the food shopping experience. Such digital platform integrates information from PHD requirements, genomic data, environmental impact, price, local and seasonal availability, farmer welfare, among others. For example, a robust App will be needed that considers an individual’s nutritional and health needs and capabilities, impact of the meal composition on the environment, and local farmers’ welfare. A plate of food can also be delivered to the consumer using the same App, which directs food order to one of several “kitchen in the cloud”. One of these takes the order and delivers directly to the consumer. The kitchen is also linked by the App to farmers who can supply raw materials as needed. Agripreneurs can thus use this digital platform powered by data analytics, blockchain technology and cloud computing to assist farmers to get better prices and handle the consistent consumer demand, and help retailers source fresh food products at competitive prices directly from farmers. An example of such business model is that of Ninjacart, which is one of the India’s largest tech-driven supply chain platform for fresh produce. They are able to do this successfully at a lower cost, faster speeds, and larger scales using an integrated supply chain that is powered by such digital platform.
These technologies will also shorten the food distribution supply chain and improve the income of artisan farmers/urban farmers by reducing the transportation cost while promoting “local” food ingredients. Aside from this economic advantage, this could invigorate farm activities in peri-urban areas surrounding Metro Manila, and connect farmers directly to consumers. Thus, this ensures that consumers will have more choices and access to local food and produce that is fresh and of a higher quality and nutritional value.
Aside from digital technologies that enable traceability and tracking, technological advances in autonomous transport, environmental sensing and logistics planning will be used to enhance the platform of distribution and fulfillment among farmers, retailers, and consumers. Through this digital platform, new business models will arise. Agripreneurs can connect easily and directly with buyers. Also, promoting local food will be easier through an online farmers’ market community. Consumers likewise will have better access to recipes that can significantly influence their consumption patterns. Recipes that include locally-grown food as ingredients will help promote culinary tourism alongside agri-tourism.
Furthermore, food distribution technologies will entail a network of digitally-connected food hubs in strategic locations, equipped with state-of-the-art refrigeration systems that can accommodate a variety of food crops and meat products; cloud-based, computer-automated storage facilities that allow time-based storage and withdrawal of food items; stringent, food classification and computer-based quality control system to ensure standardized deliveries of food products; mobile food delivery vehicles equipped with heating or cold-storage systems that delight consumers with prepared foods that are “just right” in temperature at the time of receipt of the order; environment-friendly food packaging systems using indigenous materials that ensure freshness of food without the hazards of contamination or spoilage; upstream technologies (e.g., disinfestation) to supply food distributors with food-grade packaging materials made from indigenous materials.6. Personalized nutrition, health and food experience for PHD. Technological advances on personalized nutrition and health through DNA tests and genetic engineering will be needed to offer healthy eating guidance and healthcare tailored to the individual. Advances in nutrigenomics will also provide a better molecular understanding of how food and food ingredients affect health by altering the expression of genes and the structure of an individual's genome, and how the genetic variation affects the nutrition environment. New sensor technology that tracks the changes in gut microbiome in response to food, can also be used to further customize food recommendations.
Through the use of digital technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence and big data analytics in combination with nutrigenomics and sensors, “nutrigenetic services” can be provided to consumers. Startups like GenoPalate and myDNAHealth already uses such technologies to personalized nutritional approach aimed at preventing health problems and improving life expectancy. This information can also be linked to the digital platform designed for sustainable food supply chain. Such personalized nutrition can also be delivered through “cloud kitchens” and Uber-type operations. In addition, Apps like FoodSay provide a real-time food consumption-learning platform that provides recommendation for the most nutritionally appropriate and goal-specific food depending on the time of day, season, and activity levels. FoodSay works in three easy steps. First, users initially input their allergies, diet plan goals and receive diet recommendations. Second, users populate their food diary by ordering food via FoodSay, and lastly, FoodSay then suggests best meal options based on locations and diet profile. Such app aims to gradually help each user easily follow a diet plan without any pressure and with all their diet goals in consideration. Such digital platform with the integration of environmental footprint in food informatics may nudge consumers toward PHD.
Technological advances in neurogastronomy along with the understanding of human behavior will also be needed in advocating planetary health diet (PHD). This also includes marketing such food recipe by enhancing the food experience and altering the eating habits of the city dwellers to a healthier choice. Through neurogastronomy, an emerging science that explores the dynamic processes of flavor perception in our brain, we can develop tools to enhance the multisensory food experiences that optimize the neural processes of flavor perception. For example, researchers from a Swedish university use brain-training video games with smells to improve the sense of smell and help change food behaviors associated with flavor perception and memory, such as managing cravings and encouraging children to try new foods.
We can thus envision the future of PHD food experience in restaurant and at home to be more engaging to the consumers. Neurogastronomy-informed restaurants in Metro Manila would use specific aromatic mists, subtle sound effects and controlled lighting that are all optimized to make PHD food taste better than we thought possible. At home, we could use Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) technology to enhance our food experience. e.g., by providing a digital imagery of the beach superimposed in the real world while eating our fish dish.
7. Reverse logistics in food ecosystems
Megacities like the future Metro Manila will play an important role in catalyzing the shift to an innovative food system wherein we move beyond simply reducing avoidable food waste to designing out the concept of ‘waste’ altogether in a circular economy. One concerning problem in urban waste including these food by-products is its dysfunctional logistics system. Typically, logistics in the food industry are more concerned with the forward supply chain, i.e., getting products from farms or factories to retailers where they can be sold. However, these supply chain operations are only half of the logistics system. Effective reuse of packaging materials and resale or proper disposal of unsold products requires the establishment of tech-driven reverse logistics. Digital platforms can thus be used to enable Metro Manila to redistribute surplus edible food while turning inedible by-products into new products to increase revenue streams.
For example, “Too Good to Go” developed in UK is an innovative App that allows users to do their share in reducing food waste, while at the same time getting access to healthy and nutritious food and supporting local businesses. It is now a global movement that functions as a marketplace that connects businesses with surplus food to regular consumers who want to ‘rescue’ this food. Customers order this surplus food at a discounted price and then collect it from the participating stores in a pre-set collection window. Customers have to simply choose which store from existing app members they would like to rescue from, place and pay for their order, and then go to allotted collection window and show the in-app receipt to the staff in the store or restaurant of interest. Such redistribution initiatives are already being championed by some organizations such as Feedback (https://feedbackglobal.org/) and FoodShift (http://foodshift.net/ ). Another company, “Wasteless’ uses machine learning approach with real-time tracking for grocery stores that seeks to offer customers dynamic pricing based on when a product is set to expire. This results in reduced food waste and increased revenue by enabling adjusted pricing. Similar App should be developed and linked to strategic locations such as that of Food Terminal throughout the metropolis to minimize food waste in Metro Manila.
While such digital platform allows new marketplaces for food by-products to emerge, advancement in both physical and biological technologies such as biomaterial science and biochemical engineering will be needed to transform these food by-products into new source of food, fibers, and energy. For examples, startup companies are now taking advantage of these technological innovations to produce ingredients of new food products from food by-products of other companies. Canvas uses the spent grains from AB InBev’s beer brewing to create a high-fiber prebiotic boost, while Renewal Mill turns fibrous by-product from almond milk and soy milk production into gluten-free flours that can be used in a range of products for human consumption. Food designers can follow the lead by creating recipes that substitute ‘traditional’ ingredients with food-processing by-products, helping to ensure that valuable nutrients in by-products do not go to waste.8. Sustainable nutrient, energy and water management in food ecosystems. Even if all surplus edible food was redistributed, a large volume of inedible food by-products, human excreta, and green waste would continue to be produced. As these organic materials contain valuable nutrients that can be used for a range of purposes, technological advances will be needed for nutrient management. Managing the flow of nutrients in the city would also protect our water resources and slow down the depletion of phosphorus as mentioned earlier. Metro Manila could then be the center of circular nutrient economy where food by-products, human excreta, and green waste are transformed into valuable resource while protecting the environment. These will drive new revenue streams and create new industries in a thriving urban bioeconomy.
Technologies will be needed for proper segregation and collection system to ensure that the food by-products are upcycled at their highest value. Some food ingredients, plastic packaging, and other materials can contaminate organic material streams and make it challenging to extract the nutrients at their highest value. Keeping collected organic materials in their “uncontaminated” form allow them to be used at their highest value.
Technological advances in food design and packaging also plays an important role to ensure food products that are free from ingredients that pose a risk to by-products being safely used as inputs for new uses in the bioeconomy. Likewise, the packaging that preserves food can be made from materials that can compost as safely and easily as the food it contains. Thus, the organic feedstock including the compostable packaging materials can be turned to biofertilizers. These organic fertilizers can then be used as input not only to regenerative urban farming but also to peri-urban farming and artisan farming in Metro Manila, to rebuild soils and potentially increase yields without putting crop quality or safety at risk. For example, MamaOrgana company in Macedonia was formed to collect food waste by adding value to it, produce organic fertilizers in order to help farmers in growing healthy and clean food, and also provide job opportunities for socially excluded single mothers. Likewise, a handful of urban farms in Makati City and Taguig City in Metro Manila are already practicing such “waste-to-waist” concept, and more communities are in the pipeline for farm-based recycling systems.
In addition, there are several companies already demonstrated the use of food by-product not only as organic feedstock for bio-fertilizer, but also for bio-energy. For example, Veolia’s EarthPower facility in Australia is a food waste-to-energy plant designed and licensed to accept solid and liquid food biomass from municipal, commercial, and industrial sectors in the Sydney region. The plant located in the suburb of Camellia, co-generates enough electricity for 3,600 homes from biogas and produces a nutrient-rich organic fertiliser as a by-product.
Furthermore, technological advances in water harvesting, treatment and recycling will play an important role to ensure the availability of water for the entire agri-food value chain. For example, decentralized water technologies ranging from low-tech rainwater harvesting, atmospheric water harvesting, compact membrane assembly to high-tech “green” desalination system will be needed by both urban farmers and artisan farmers. Technologies are needed to transform traditional sewage treatment plant to a “resource recovery factory” where water, energy and nutrients are recovered from urban wastewater, and at the same time produce new materials, e.g., bioplastics. Appropriate technologies for resource recovery are now advancing to collect, process and utilize garbage including human excreta in a decentralized manner at the household-level. The recovered resources are used to support household needs for food production and cascade water reuse. Thus, domestic waste, will have economic value for making fertilizers and generating energy. among other uses. In addition, sanitation systems will include toilets that are "smart" using sensors and cloud intelligence to capture molecular characterizations of waste and transmit consumer use or health data through connected networks and devices. Circular business models will emerge through big data analytics wherein consumers can also earn rebates from the daily waste they generate including those health data they provided with consent.
Finally, evaluation of food, energy and water (FEW) linkages in relation to human health, diet and food consumption patterns would also provide another rich context for systems analysis. For example, assessment tools such as total lifecycle analysis, techno-economic assessments, and value chain management will be needed to evaluate those proposed cross-cutting solutions. Scenario development and modelling approaches are well-suited in developing new pathways for future-proof food systems by encouraging assessment tradeoffs and identifying synergies across scales and sectors. Soft technologies incorporating multi-objective life-cycle optimization and multi-criteria decision analysis could aid the decision making process in the presence of trade-off among conflicting objectives of various stakeholders. The convergence of seemingly disparate disciplines of “hard” sciences of the technophiles to the “soft” sciences of sociologist and public policy would lead to systems change that can be adopted by the society. This will cut across multiple sectors and require a transdisciplinary approach which encompass and integrate various disciplines and involve a wide range of stakeholders; thus, co-creating new insights on how scales and contexts can be integrated to identify the recipe of hard and soft technological solutions toward a regenerative and nourishing food systems in Metro Manila.References:
Accenture, Future of food: New Realities for the Industry (2019). https://www.accenture.com/us-en/_acnmedia/pdf-70/accenture-future-of-food-new-realities-for-the-industry.pdf
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Cities and Circular Economy for Food (2019). https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/Cities-and-Circular-Economy-for-Food_280119.pdf
P. Lacy, J. Long, W. Spindler, The Circular Economy Handbook: Realizing the Circular Advantage (2020) https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-95968-6