IBM shows us five technologies that will disrupt the food supply chain in five years
Food and how it will arrive on our plates is front and central in any conversation regarding the challenges that will come with a future of growing demand and dwindling resources. The world’s population is set to surpass 8 billion in five years and that will but unprecedented pressure on agriculture and food supply.
Just a few years ago, ‘agritech’, wasn’t part of the mainstream conversation when it came to innovation, today with reports of a broken food system and decline in insect numbers and warnings about biodiversity, how we apply tech solutions to food supply, may be one of the most important questions.
The thinkers at IBM haven’t missed this and their researchers are exploring new technologies and devices, scientific breakthroughs, and entirely new ways of thinking about food safety and security. They have just released what they call 5 in 5, which is five technologies they see disrupting farm to fork in the next five years.
1 - #twinning: Farming's digital doubles will help feed a growing population using less resources.
By creating a virtual model of the world’s farmland, what they call a ‘digital twin’. That’s some seriously Big Data, but it is hoped that by collating vast amounts of data, l it can help predict future variations in yields before they happen and allow farmers to act pre-emptively. Satellites will collect data on things like infrastructure, soil chemistry and impending storms. Basically, it’s a big data approach to the farmer’s experience and intuition, reading various signs and ‘feeling’ what the weather will do for his crops.
2 - Spoiler alert: Blockchain will prevent more food from going to waste
We know that Blockchain is set to transform the food supply chain, but when you AI and IoT layers on top you get something sophisticated enough to remove costly unknowns from the supply chain. Every link in the chain, from farmers to suppliers will know what to plant, order and ship, taking the guesswork out of food supply and eliminating waste.
3 – Mapping the microbiome to protect us from bad bacteria
IBM is building a huge database of information collected about the microbes that exist in the food supply chain. While some of these microbes are good for us, others are not, understanding how they interact within the supply chain will mean that food safety can be designed to predictive instead of reactive.
4 - Dinner plate detectives: AI sensors will detect foodborne pathogens at home
Soon, according to IBM, your mobile phone will act as a diagnostic tool allowing you to detect foodborne pathogens in your home kitchen. With AI and sensors at our disposal, we will be able to detect food poisoning-causing microbes in restaurant kitchens, from our counters and cutting boards as well as further upstream in farms and storage facilities. Food poisoning could soon become the rarest of occurrences.
5 - Plastic Surgery: A radical new recycling process will breathe new life into old plastic
IBM has developed a ‘radical new plastic recycling system’ that, according to them can help ensure plastic gets repurposed and doesn’t end up in the sea. The new system allows for recycling of both clear and coloured plastics, dirty and clean containers and even polyester fabric.
IBM’s claims may seem lofty, but the technology is already in our hands, the supply chain, is of course not only made of data and infrastructure but of human relationships and a vast decision-making matrix, so while five years, may seem like a very short time, a lot can happen in tech.