Associate feature: Driving a green food recovery
The impacts of COVID-19 have left the world reeling, creating an economic, cultural and social whirlwind across the globe.
However, one of the areas now firmly under the spotlight is food: in terms of supply, sustainability and quality.
Many elements of our 21st century approach to food sourcing have been thrown into sharp focus over this time.
Whether it be complex, global supply chains; food poverty; diet and obesity; food waste; food miles or the damage to our hospitality and catering industries, the inefficiencies surrounding food are significant.
Businesses and politicians are under pressure to come up with rapid-recovery post-COVID plans and while it is tempting to revert to ‘business as usual’, we should seize this unique chance to implement a sustainable food recovery.
There is opportunity here to counteract the impact of a stalled economy and, more importantly, to address the even greater future threat posed by climate change.
Commercial farming is one of the biggest sources of environmental damage worldwide, second only to transport, and it is steeped in traditional practices often in small holdings, very hard to modernise.
Transforming agriculture to encourage a transition to carbon neutrality is therefore a significant challenge.
Ensuring that the ‘field to fork’ journey is sustainable and ethical means building a green, far more localised food chain.
This necessitates a commitment to reducing intensive farming practices; reinforcing livestock and plant health standards; reducing food miles dramatically; focusing on soil improvement; and adopting new technologies.
As such, indoor farming, precision agriculture, automation, robotics and drones have the capacity to improve crop and livestock quality, variety and yield.
In Scotland, we have an opportunity to look more closely at our national food strategy and consider indoor agritech more thoroughly.
Developments such as ‘vertical’ farming have a strong pedigree already in this country with Scottish companies and institutions as leading global players.
As a country which imports nearly 50 per cent of all its fruit and vegetables, we are dependent on complex global supply chains for many food products.
Much of this produce is highly perishable, with short shelf lives and of variable quality.
It is grown overseas under glass or polythene, often by migrant labour in poor living conditions, washed in chlorinated water, sealed in gas-flushed packaging to prolong shelf life, then transported long distances to the end consumer. None of this is sustainable, ethical or helping us to secure our supply chains.
The adoption of emerging agricultural technology, such as vertical farming, would enable an increasing range of root, fruit and leafy green crops to be cultivated locally in climate-controlled conditions, not subject to the vagaries of the Scottish weather.
It would enable multiple harvests per season across a much wider variety of crops, extending the range grown commercially today in Scotland.
There are opportunities for food producers, farmers, community groups and agri-entrepreneurs supplying everyone from supermarkets and food banks to artisan food processors and the tourism and hospitality trades.
Many of these sectors employ large numbers of lower-paid workers and their job security has been massively hit by COVID-19: we need to look at supporting those industries to get back on their feet once it is safe to do so.
Scotland’s R&D capabilities in companies like ours here at IGS are reinforced by the scientific acumen of organisations such as the world-renowned James Hutton Institute and the SRUC.
By combining greater scientific understanding of growing plants indoors using an abundance of data and artificial intelligence, we have a truly differentiated proposition that we are now exporting globally.
New and evolving skills are required to operate successfully in such environments; however, Scotland’s world-class expertise provides another opportunity to work towards global leadership in building sustainable food supply chains.
There are huge opportunities for Scotland to prove itself on a global stage in achieving a green food recovery.
We are at an important junction and need to have the courage to embrace agritech as part of our national infrastructure, with exciting prospects in terms both of the economic and employment opportunities as well as the solutions it can provide to one of the most fundamental challenges of our time.
David Farquhar is the CEO of Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS)
This piece was sponsored by IGS