Innovating the Future of Food Systems

Scanning for transformational innovations to reduce post-harvest food loss and reshape food systems in emerging markets by 2035

How might we source, evaluate, and recommend innovations with the most potential to address the most pressing challenges facing global food systems?

Challenge

In early 2017, the World Economic Forum released the results of a scenarios planning exercise that offered a glimpse into four possible futures for global food systems. Ranging from dire to promising, the scenarios foreshadowed global food systems in 2030 teetering between unsustainable production and consumption and torn between isolationism and collaboration. The scenarios also provoked many questions. Among them: what must we do to stave off the most ill-fated future? What investments should we make? What long shots in research, technology, and innovation should we develop and scale? And how do these scenarios vary depending upon whether you live in a low-, middle-, or high-income country? The future of global food systems hinges upon how we respond to the challenges of today and prepare for the challenges of tomorrow. Therefore, it is paramount that we try to answer these questions now.

Solution

Called to action by the World Economic Forum’s scenarios, and recognizing the profound, large-scale changes happening around the world, a team of GKI researchers set off to uncover the innovations most suited to support humanity in feeding its growing population in a sustainable way over the next 20 years. The team used a modified Delphi Methodology, engaging 50 global experts in the fields of agribusiness, academia, investment, innovation, international development, and Futures Foresight, to harness the power of collective intelligence to illuminate areas ripe for breakthrough innovation. We paid special attention to innovations that address post-harvest loss, as GKI currently serves as the Innovation Partner for YieldWise, The Rockefeller Foundation’s $130 million 7-year initiative to halve post-harvest food loss (PHL) in the developing world. However, we opened the aperture more broadly, scanning also for innovations germane across global food systems.

“To tackle the complex food and agriculture challenges of today, we need to deploy the most appropriate and innovative solutions that will improve conditions for tomorrow. This report takes stock of the most relevant disruptive innovations that could be applied today and in the future. The Foundation and our partners are eager to utilize this thorough assessment of transformational innovations that have high potential to change the landscape for, and improve the livelihoods of, smallholder farmers and other vulnerable populations.” ~ Amira Bliss, Associate Director at The Rockefeller Foundation

We guided the expert panels through parallel processes to, first, understand those innovations existing today that hold the most promise to transform food systems in emerging markets in the next five years, and second, to make sense of those forces shaping our world, such as urbanization, wealth disparity, a changing climate, and nutrition and health inequities, to distill how they are transforming the context in which food systems will exist in 2035. The result is a report that not only highlights 22 investible innovations that can help to reduce the problem of post-harvest food loss over the next 5 years, but also the most significant macro-level trends shaping food systems in emerging markets in the next 20 years. These trends point to long-term opportunities for emerging areas of innovation, such as quantum computing and synthetic biology, to fundamentally transform the way we produce, process, distribute, store, sell, purchase, and even eat food.

The ultimate goal is for these insights to unleash innovations best poised to advance our planet toward a more sustainable and inclusive global food system. For that, we implore innovators, investors, policymakers, and business leaders from around the world to pick up the ideas presented in the report to forge new approaches that will help ensure a future of sustainable, available food.

Results / Outcomes

  • Recommended 22 innovations ready for investment today to reduce post-harvest loss in emerging markets over the next 5 years, covering a variety of solutions including packaging and processing, energy, storage and transport, life sciences, data collection and monitoring, and enabling innovations.
  • Converged on a suite of 8 evaluation criteria (from over 100 developed and considered) to serve as an objective, intuitive, and comprehensive tool with which to better assess the potential of an innovation to achieve its desired impact.
  • Illuminated the transformational potential of each innovation, including the existing market opportunities, comparative advantage, critical risks, performance across an array of evaluation criteria, and systems factors that could enable or thwart the success of each innovation.
  • Issued 10 Invitations for Transformational Innovation, each of which offers a provocation meant to inspire bold efforts to reshape food systems in emerging markets by 2035.
  • Elicited endorsement from dozens of global agricultural innovation institutions, investors, research institutions and philanthropists eager to spur transformation, including XPrize, the World Sustainable Business Council, and the Postharvest Education Foundation.
Photo Credit: Atlas of the Future