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332. The Role of Science, Technology and Innovation in Transforming the Food System

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The food system or food system approach is a research field that analyzes not only food production, but also all activities from production to consumption and their outcomes, as well as environmental and socioeconomic impacts. Let's take a look back at the development of the food system from a Pick up article introduced previously. 

With the beginning of human history, the food system has evolved from a domestic form of production, processing and consumption to a more commercial and specialized form of production, processing and consumption activities. In particular, with urbanization and the development of a market economy in rural areas, post-harvest activities have become increasingly important, allowing for storage, long-distance transportation, extraction and utilization of useful parts, and improvements in nutritional value, sensory qualities, and hygiene.

In the middle of the 20th century, the food system was faced with the challenge of eradicating famine and increasing food production in anticipation of population growth. One of the means to achieve this goal was the use of fossil fuels (coal and oil), fertilizers (nitrogen and phosphorus), and chemicals (pesticides) in large quantities along with specialization, mechanization, which became popular in developed and some developing countries. In the post-harvest sector, large-scale processing, large-scale production, commodification, globalization of trade, and large-scale distribution systems (supermarkets) developed. This has enabled unprecedented productivity gains and improved food availability and access. However, this situation of food insatiability has been accompanied by environmental damage (pollution, resource depletion, loss of biological resources, climate change) and social costs (inequality in healthy diets, income and sustainable livelihood opportunities, increase in non-communicable diseases). In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that the food system must be transformed to be more attentive to its impact on planetary and human health, and to contribute to sustainable development and climate change action.

At the same time, the food system presents an astonishing diversity of aspects, depending on the combination of a myriad of crops, a multitude of conversion processes, cooking methods and food cultures, and capital and technology levels. This diversity has been formed through years of human innovation while maximizing the use of local resources and products, and continues to evolve dynamically, recombining different models of production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management from time to time.

The success of building a food system that is efficient, leaves no one behind, resilient to shocks, and sustainable depends on the ability to use science, technology and innovation while taking into account the diversity of the food system.

In September 2021, the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) is scheduled to be held under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General as part of activities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The UN has established a group of scientists with the aim of ensuring the independence of the science behind the Food Systems Summit and its outcomes. The Science Group publishes recommendations for transforming the food system. A two-day Science Day is being organized starting today, July 8, to discuss the role of science, technology and innovation in food system transformation.

Contributor: IIYAMA Miyuki (Director, Information Program)