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Disruptive technology applications and the Future of Food

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While food security is a global issue, its impacts are all too often hidden. Aiming to address global demand for food, we have created highly complex supply chains that are not transparent and difficult to trace end-to-end. From food fraud to food-borne illness and food loss caused by inefficiencies in the supply chain, lack of production and supply chain visibility affects us all, and it is often the vulnerable and invisible in our society who are the first to suffer. The World Economic Forum’s new report, Innovation with a Purpose: Improving Traceability in Food Value Chains through Technology

investigates the role of disruptive technology applications capable of effectively tracing such inefficiencies in food value chains.

The World Economic Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership and project accelerator that aims to harness the transformative power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to better address food-system challenges.

Essential to the well-being of people and the planet, food holds a critical role in human societies. But fundamental transformation is needed to attain the aspiration for an inclusive, efficient, sustainable, nutritious and healthy food system. Nearly one-third of global food production is currently wasted, and yet nearly 800 million people are chronically undernourished. In addition, food systems are responsible for 25% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. The World Health Organization estimates that 600 million people fall ill and 420,000 die each year due to contaminated food.

Traceability will address consumer demand for food production transparency and further enhance the ability to identify, respond to and even prevent food safety issues. Furthermore, it could reduce the exposure to outbreak of food risks by making it faster, more efficient and more feasible to identify a source of food contamination precisely, thereby mitigating the impact.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming food systems before our eyes. But we cannot take its benefits for granted, especially in developing countries where the value chain is dominated by smallholder farmers and small and medium food enterprises. Now is the time to look at emerging technologies and ask ourselves what it is we can do, on the policy and advocacy side, to ensure they are moving the world in the direction of inclusive and sustainable development,” said Juergen Voegele, Senior Director, Food and Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank.

The innovative solutions will build on a range of transformative technologies such as blockchain, internet of things and food-sensing technologies, and offers a powerful opportunity to improve information about the provenance, safety, efficiency and sustainability of food and food supplies.

“A transformation in food systems is needed to nourish the growing global population in a sustainable manner. There is enormous potential to leverage the power of disruptive technologies to transform food systems so that it enhances the lives of millions of people. The Government of the Netherlands is committed to support linking of such technologies in the agri-food sector to local innovation systems in an inclusive and sustainable way to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals” said Sigrid Kaag, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands.

The report also identifies several areas for collaboration with a focus on “pathways to scale” – policies, standards and economic models – that help support the inclusive scaling of new food-related technology solutions that are critical to support global poverty alleviation goals.

“Disruptive technologies like digital agriculture can accelerate implementation and adoption of solutions across the global food chain and allow mitigation of critical food safety concerns. What this timely report highlights is that for benefits from these technologies to be truly inclusive and maximized, there need to be new forms of multistakeholder collaboration focused on empowering small-scale producers in developing and emerging economies who will face barriers to adoption. The report is part of the Innovation with a Purpose Platform from the World Economic Forum’s Centre for Global Public Goods, which promotes rapid and scaled innovation in public-private cooperation platforms”, said Dominic Waughray, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for Global Public Goods of the World Economic Forum.

The Innovation with a Purpose platform launched today, aiming to harness the power of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to better address food system challenges. It will support global, regional and national leaders in directing policies, investment and new collaboration towards deploying technology innovations at scale to meet the needs of the food and agriculture sector.

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Asia and Pacific on course to miss all Sustainable Development Goals

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Unless progress is accelerated, Asia and the Pacific are on course to miss all of the 17 Goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Executive Secretary of the UN regional commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), told UN News at the Organization’s Headquarters on Wednesday.

Under-Secretary-General Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana was in New York to take part in the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the main UN platform for monitoring the progress that countries are making towards the Agenda, which is the UN’s blueprint for ending poverty and preserving the planet.

ESCAP’s latest Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report shows that, when it comes to some of the Goals, the region is actually going backwards. These are the goals related to access to clean water and sanitation (Goal 6), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), and responsible consumption and production (Goal 11).

There are, said Ms. Alisjahbana, several reasons for this: “There is water scarcity, because of the pressure of urbanization, and the management of natural resources and the environment are making the situation worse. As for moving towards sustainable consumption, that has to do with behaviour and lifestyle. With increasing wealth you consume more, but what you consume is something that is actually not sustainable.

Governments, said the head of ESCAP, must ultimately be responsible for investments in sustainable development. Investing in basic infrastructure costs money, but there is a considerable multiplier effect, that has a positive effect on the economy. Countries with smaller financial resources should look at raising money through fiscal reforms rather than looking for aid, and risking becoming dependent, she added.

The Progress Report complains about a lack of data, an important point because, says Ms. Alisjahbana, without the correct data you can’t track progress, or evaluate the best actions to take going forward. Improved data must go hand in hand with improved capacity for analysing data, which means national statistical offices, and SDG monitoring.

Despite the many challenges facing the region’s efforts to achieve the Goals, Ms. Alisjahbana remains optimistic. The situation, she believes, can be turned around, through better cooperation, as well as the abundant talent and expertise found in the region.

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Asia and Pacific Growth Steady Amid Global Trade Tensions

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Developing Asia will maintain strong but moderating growth over 2019 and 2020, as supportive domestic demand counteracts an environment of global trade tensions, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report released today.

In a supplement to its Asian Development Outlook (ADO), ADB maintains growth forecasts for developing Asia at 5.7% in 2019 and 5.6% in 2020—unchanged from its April forecast. These growth rates are slightly down from developing Asia’s 5.9% growth in 2018. Excluding the newly industrialized economies of Hong Kong, China; the Republic of Korea; Singapore; and Taipei,China, the regional growth outlook has been revised down from 6.2% to 6.1% in 2019 and maintained at that rate in 2020.

Deepening trade tension between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States (US) remains the largest downside risk to this outlook, despite an apparent truce in late June that could allow trade negotiations between the two countries to resume.

“Even as the trade conflict continues, the region is set to maintain strong but moderating growth,” said ADB Chief Economist Mr. Yasuyuki Sawada. “However, until the world’s two largest economies reach agreement, uncertainty will continue to weigh on the regional outlook.”

The growth outlook for East Asia in 2019 has been revised down to 5.6% because of slower than expected activity in the Republic of Korea. The subregion’s growth outlook of 5.5% for 2020 is unchanged from April. Growth for the subregion’s largest economy, the PRC, is also unchanged, with forecasts of 6.3% in 2019 and 6.1% in 2020, as policy support offsets softening growth in domestic and external demand.

In South Asia, the economic outlook is robust, with growth projected at 6.6% in 2019 and 6.7% in 2020, albeit lower than forecast in April. The growth outlook for India has been cut to 7.0% in 2019 and 7.2% in 2020 because the fiscal 2018 outturn fell short.

The outlook for Southeast Asia has been downgraded slightly to 4.8% in 2019 and 4.9% in 2020 due to the trade impasse and a slowdown in the electronics cycle. In Central Asia, the growth outlook for 2019 has been revised up to 4.3% on account of an improved outlook for Kazakhstan. Central Asia’s growth outlook of 4.2% for 2020 is unchanged from April. The growth outlook in the Pacific—3.5% in 2019 and 3.2% in 2020—is unchanged, as the subregion continues to rebound from the effects of Cyclone Gita and an earthquake in Papua New Guinea, the subregion’s largest economy.

The major industrial economies have had slight revisions to their growth forecasts, with the US revised up to 2.6% for 2019 and the Euro area revised down to 1.3%. The growth outlook for Japan is unchanged at 0.8% in 2019 and 0.6% in 2020.

Developing Asia’s inflation projections were revised up from 2.5% to 2.6% for both 2019 and 2020, reflecting higher oil prices and various domestic factors, such as the continuing outbreak of African swine fever in several Asian economies, which is expected to drive up pork prices in the PRC.

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How to measure blockchain’s value in four steps

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To help organizations identify the value of blockchain technology and build a corresponding business case, the World Economic Forum, the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation, has released the Blockchain Value Framework as part of the white paper, Building Value with Blockchain Technology: How to Evaluate Blockchain’s Benefits.

Co-designed with Accenture, the Blockchain Value Framework is the second in a series of white papers for organizations to better understand that blockchain technology is a tool deployed to achieve a specific purpose, not a goal in itself. This new framework provides organizations with the tools to begin measuring blockchain’s value, including key questions to consider. It is the first visual roadmap of its kind and is based on a global survey of 550 individuals across 13 industries, including automotive, banking and retail, public-sector leaders, chief executive officers and an analysis of 79 blockchain projects.

“In our last paper, we stressed that blockchain deployment is not the end goal,” said Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain at the World Economic Forum. “We wanted to get beyond the hype. This new framework is for those business leaders that have figured out blockchain is the right solution for a specific problem, but don’t know what to do next.”

“Organizations need to make business decisions and investments with confidence and that requires proof of the value-add and an analysis of why, or why not, they should consider something new,” said David Treat, Managing Director and Global Blockchain Lead at Accenture. “Through this new framework, we aim to educate businesses and challenge them to rethink their current business models, relationships between ecosystem partners, customers and their investments in technology. The path to blockchain adoption starts here with evaluating the technical and strategic priorities and aligning them with investments in innovation.”

The framework starts with questions on blockchain’s role and desired impact. Assessing potential pain points and areas for opportunity without thinking about the technology is essential. Next is to examine the three key dimensions of blockchain’s role alongside its capabilities. The roadmap can assist organizations in moving from current-state assessment to future blockchain opportunity, and to identify where the value will be created and delivered. Cost savings, increased revenue and improved customer experience are all possible business case results.

According to the global survey conducted in conjunction with the new framework, 51% of survey respondents identified “missing out on developing new products/services” as the number one expectation if they do not invest in blockchain technology in the near future. The other two most common answers were missing out on speed/efficiency gains (23%) and missing out on cost savings (15%). The interviews highlighted the potential of the technology to simplify and optimize complete value chains through the sharing of simplified real-time data with increased efficiency. However, the paper also cautions businesses to carefully consider whether blockchain is the best solution, relative to other technologies or other digitization strategies. As noted in the Blockchain Beyond the Hype white paper, blockchain may not be a viable solution or it may not be the correct time to pursue this avenue.

In nine of the industries surveyed, the full traceability and integrity of the data were the top two potential advantages of using blockchain technology. Most of the industries surveyed could benefit from smart contracts and automation provided by blockchain. Surprisingly, few organizations selected “new business products or services” as one of the benefits. This suggests the current focus for organizations is on improving existing products and services before considering investing in new opportunities.

“We may be moving beyond the hype, but blockchain isn’t going away. Central banks are experimenting with digital currencies and supply chain networks are piloting blockchain policies. We are also seeing companies like Facebook and Starbucks entering the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. This means practical use cases of the technology will become more widespread,” Warren said. “A draft of the framework was further validated at a multilateral session of global leaders at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos-Klosters.”

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