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About the Author: Chema Castellano

Chema holds a MSc degree in Biology from Universidad Complutense de Madrid with concentration in Ecology and an MSc in Environmental Science and Technology from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. During the last years, Chema has worked as an innovation consultant, specialising in proposal writing and acquiring wide experience in EU projects. Before, he worked as a researcher at CIEMAT (Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas – ES) and Scion (New Zealand Forest Research Institute - NZ) in the field of biomass utilisation for energy and materials.

The agri-food sector has paramount importance for all the society. All of us need to eat, and the sector represents a main contribution to the GDP of many countries. It also faces a wide range of challenges, with rising production costs, growing threat from international conflict and climate change-induced loss of productivity, and unsustainable practices leading to GHG emissions and other negative impacts on the environment.

2024 is a complicated moment, with widespread farmer protests, especially in the EU, that are closely related to these challenges. There is a pressing need to find a balance between farmers’ needs, productivity, regulations, and market demands that concerns not only actors in the agri-food sector but society as a whole.

The development and implementation of innovative solutions that are both environmentally and economically sustainable may hold the key to a very much needed positive change. Below we analyze five of the key trends seeking to offer solutions to the main challenges of the agri-food sector.

Digital transformation and precision agriculture

The agri-food sector is experimenting a digital transition, with a range of innovative technologies that include Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), sensorization, blockchain, satellite images and drones, aiming to revolutionize the different stages of the agri-food supply chain. Precision agriculture and the implementation of data driven solutions can have a huge impact at the production stage, enabling farmers to monitor pests or define precise amounts of fertilizers, pesticides or water and contributing to increase yields and product quality. Digital solutions can also enable advanced management systems and real-time tracking of products from farm to fork, contributing to create efficient, and secure supply chains that also help to minimize food waste.

Alternative raw materials and fuels

The agri-food industry is a main consumer of non-renewable raw materials and fuels. Phosphate rock, natural gas, petrol or diesel are key resources fueling our food systems that have seen a booming increase in price over the last years, posing additional challenges to agri-food businesses. The implementation of renewable alternatives to these products, such as biofertilizers, biopesticides, biogas or hydrogen is a must in order to guarantee the overall sustainability of our food systems. Investments and developments in these alternatives are thus expected to continue growing over 2024.

Sustainable packaging and agricultural plastics

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues, since the production and disposal of plastic products surpasses the capacity and dedicated resources to deal with them. Food packaging and agricultural plastics (such as mulch film or greenhouse plastics) are main contributors to plastic pollution. Being aware of this situation, agri-food businesses are increasingly investing in sustainable alternatives with reduced environmental impacts compared to their oil-based counterparts. These alternatives rely on recycled materials as well as biobased, biodegradable products sourced from plant or microbe-based polymers, such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) or polylactic acid (PLA).

Soil management and regenerative agriculture

Our food systems generate approximately one third of the global GHG emissions. Soil management and regenerative agriculture (an approach focused on sustainable practices that increase resilience to climate change and strengthen soil health) are proving fundamental to guarantee the resilience of food systems. Interest in soil management and regenerative agriculture is expected to continue growing in 2024, since additional research data on the potential of these practices are becoming available.

Alternative proteins

Proteins from alternative sources with reduced environmental impacts such as plants, algae, fungi, fermented products, or insects, are expected to experiment an important development as a consequence of increased consumer awareness on a healthy and more sustainable lifestyle. In line with this development, the alternative protein market is projected to reach €390 billion by 2033, growing at a booming CAGR of 19% between 2023 and 2033.

At Innovarum we strive to support innovation in the agri-food sector, being involved in key projects aiming to deliver solutions to some of its main challenges. Examples of these projects are SISTERS, LIKE-A-PRO, MAINSTREAMBIO, OrganicClimateNET, or SOILUTIONS. More information can be found in our projects section.

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