06 May 2021 — EIT Food, a food “innovation ecosystem” set up by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), has entered into partnership with the new European Carbon+ Farming Coalition.
The ambitious new coalition – established by the World Economic Forum’s CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal – aims to decarbonize the European food system, while maximizing other benefits such as soil health, farmer resilience and biodiversity.
The coalition aims takes on a “farmer-centric” approach toward boosting the uptake of regenerative and climate-smart agriculture practices, by facilitating educational workshops and “test farms” for piloting new agri-tech ideas from unique start-ups.
“The roadblocks to adoption of regenerative and climate-smart agriculture practices are complex,” Saskia Nuijten, director of communication and public engagement at EIT Food, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“However, one challenge facing farming in the 21st century is to maintain production levels that will ensure affordable, high-quality food for the world while keeping methods and inputs sustainable,” she stresses.
“To practice regenerative agriculture effectively, many farmers will need to acquire new knowledge and skills, particularly in respect of soil management.”
Nuijten stresses that some farming practices with the potential to improve sustainability more broadly have been in use by farmers across Europe for many years.
“The question is, how can those practices be shared, scaled and combined with advances in technology and contemporary scientific knowledge?”
Regenerative agricultural models
EIT Food’s involvement in the coalition reflects the commitment and extensive work on farmer-centric, sustainable and regenerative agriculture.
Among EIT Food’s initiatives in this area, the Regenerative Agriculture Revolution program offers training to European farmers on the principles of regenerative agriculture and how to apply these to their farms, as well as working with agri-food companies to transition their supply to regenerative agriculture.
“A unique example of practices taking root is the integration of modern technologies with traditional regenerative farming methods,” says Nuijten. “For example, as part of a partnership with Microsoft and Danone, the AI Factory for Agrifood aimed to encourage the progression of regenerative agriculture through digitalization.”
The coalition also facilitates Grow Workshops, which are educational workshops on emerging practices and technologies that aim to establish regional and European networks of farmers and support the uptake of sustainable and circular solutions.
Under the coalition’s Test Farms program, agricultural start-ups are linked with farmers and testing-land, to help agri-tech innovators test their products and services on real-life farms.
In addition, the project supports the Innovator Fellowship, a six-month skills and mentoring program for innovators in the agri-food sector, working on responses to global food challenges. The program includes dedicated creative challenges on soil health and agri-food sustainability.
“After an evaluation step, the talents [from the Innovator Fellowship] will participate in a Foodathon – an immersive, competitive and stimulating experience where they will form a team with the most exciting ideas,” details Nuijten.
Test Farms forge partnerships with start-ups
Under the coalition’s Test Farms program, agricultural start-ups are linked with farmers and testing-land, to help agritech innovators test their products and services on real-life farms.
“Through enabling these links EIT Food wants to help innovative agri-tech ideas to validate and test their products and services, showcase their business to customers and investors and finally support the technological transformation in European agriculture,” Nuijten tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Innovations supported by The Test Farms program include Ullmanna’s Weeding Organic Robotic Machine (WORM) which, thanks to AI, is capable of recognizing weeds from crops. This solution lowers the need to use pesticides and reduces the cost of labor.”
“Start-ups test their solution on the premises of the test field according to the plan, created during the match-making event between farmers and solution providers,” she details.
During the testing period, selected start-ups together with farmers will also organize a Demo Days for local farmers to attend, test the solution and possibly buy the product/service.
Evolution of farmed food
EIT Food adding its weight to the European Carbon+ Farming Coalition comes as Europe’s largest agri-food stakeholders and policymakers are narrowing their investment focus on novel solutions that ensure a more steady supply of sustainable, climate-resilient and nutrient-dense produce.
The European Commission’s Smart Protein project, for instance, is currently exploring four underutilized crops – quinoa, legumes, fava beans and lentils – tipped as ideal for cultivation on European soil. Currently they are mainly produced in Asia, Africa and the Americas, and imported to Europe.
Meanwhile, trends point to the consumption of animal produce – widely considered a cause for environmental climate – as approaching a downward trend. Consumption of animal-based produce in Europe could be on its way down after hitting a “peak meat” apex in 2025, according to a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Blue Horizon Corporation.
By 2035, the analysis suggests that every tenth portion of all meat, eggs and dairy products eaten across the globe will be from an alternative protein source.
Agriculture is deemed “our greatest chance” for delivering on commitments to the Paris Agreement, according to Dr. Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food. He notes that “inclusive innovation” will be the key enabler for a transition to net-zero, nature-positive food systems.
“By pooling resources, avoiding duplication of efforts, sharing and establishing best practices in such collaborative partnerships, we can achieve greater impact more effectively.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
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