High vs Low-Tech / Short- vs Long-Term

Hi all,
As we think about innovations that will transform the food system, it’s good to keep in mind the incredible diversity of food systems and contexts in which innovations will play out.

Recent reports by IFTF and WEF (links below) highlight high-tech innovations which could create profound transformations, especially in wealthier markets. These include AI, cellular agriculture, programmeable assets / internet of things, big data, blockchain. nutrigenetics.

A recent report by GAIN and the Global Knowledge Initiative (also below) focuses on innovations that can have a major impact on nutrition in the next 5 years, and most of them are low-tech solutions for developing countries: cooperative processing, low-cost solar dryers and refrigerators, solar and mobile cooling, digital-enabled market connectivity. It’s a reminder that a good portion of the world is still farming with hand-tools and no irrigation, enduring seasonal hunger, and awaiting the benefits of the first industrial revolution much less the “fourth industrial revolution.”

One possibility is that transformational technology advances in some regions will leave others even farther behind. Alternately we could have developing countries leapfrogging straight to more sustainable and equitable solutions. Neither outcome is guaranteed to happen … it’s partly up to us .

all best, Lisa

Report links:
– “Nutritious Food Foresight: 12 ways to invest in good food for emerging markets,” (GAIN / GKI), http://globalknowledgeinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Nutritious-Food-Foresight_GKI-and-GAIN-2019.pdf
– “Good Food is Good Business,” (IFTF), http://www.iftf.org/goodfoodisgoodbusiness/
– “Innovation with a Purpose: The role of technology innovation in accelerating food-systems transformation” (WEF) http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Innovation_with_a_Purpose_VF-reduced.pdf

Thank you for sharing! This is great point. We’ve had some discussion about the differences in challenges between developed and developing countries (including here and here).

CC @Caroline, @SevagKechichian and @timsilman

@Thanku, @dthomas, @laurentucker85, you might have thoughts on this as well. Specifically to @lisadreier’s point: How do we make sure developing countries “leapfrog” straight to more sustainable solutions?

Hi @NickOttens - sorry for my delay! My two cents would be supporting entrepreneurship; micro-finance, and making sure there are ways for communities to share their learnings with each other so they can iterate quicker. I am not a “tech” guy, so am unsure how to support low tech options. I do believe that local communities needing to solve real life threatening problems is in part the catalyst for those communities to jump straight into the future. Communities in South America collecting plastic for use in 3-D printing as one example of entrepreneurship solving existing problems with new technology.

Lisa, thank you for those links. I often think about people using hand-tools to raise food. My mother once spoke of going to the creek with a wheel-barrow during the depression to get water for the garden that was plowed with a mule. She would have been 99 this year. She also said they’d put fruit up on the roof in the morning to dry in the sun, then take it down at night and put it back up the next day to continue the process. Sun-drying food was common. She grew up in South Carolina, not far from Augusta, Georgia.

I would think the mobile processing ideas would have included canning in re-usable glass jars as our grandparents used. I remember relatives getting together to make pickles in the bathtub or to fill Ball or Mason jars, or just about any jar you could find a lid for with jellies, preserves, apple butter and more.

We were lucky to be able to pick and slice peaches at peak ripeness and put them in our freezer to be enjoyed all winter long. I promise you food sold in grocery stores is not nearly as good as locally grown and processed food, (although I admit the pickles didn’t always come out to my liking).

My father had a small lawn tractor with a tiller he could attach on back. The soil in his yard was terrible. I helped him build it up with manure and compost but it did little good. The garden relied on modern fertilizer. I don’t think he ever had the soil tested, and if he did I’m sure it would have tested differently a few months later. And he never got a handle on how much to water the garden. The type of hydroponics I focus on has the potential to solve many problems in this and in other areas.

Nevertheless, a superabundant harvest requires a lot of attention in order to preserve it, and it won’t wait. Working together with others to get it safely preserved helps immeasurably.