Food security: global strategies and technologyBY ANTONIO PICASSO

Leggi in italiano

Cop27 begins. What is the point of holding an event that, before it even begins, is frowned upon by all? But food security, the focus of the Sharm summit, requires bold strategies from the international community. It requires global industrial policies and solutions that also call for artificial intelligence.

Food security is one of the topics on the agenda at Cop27 being held in Sharm el-Sheikh. It is an appropriate choice, because current events necessitate talking about the food emergency and because Egypt was one of the countries closest to collapse following the wheat crisis last June and July. 
On the other hand, neither optimism nor concreteness is guiding the summit. Indeed, even before it began, the conference came under criticism because previous conferences have not resulted in a climate agreement or any shared solution. The event, which is of little substance, has been held 27 times, not because it has been successful, but rather the hypocritical belief that Cops should be done “just to do it.”

With the Russian-Ukrainian war and the resulting wheat and sunflower oil crises, the international community became aware of a phenomenon that had been persisting for a longer period, but which just has surged in the last few months. Agricultural commodity supply chains are unbalanced and exposed to exogenous factors, such as geopolitical escalations and financial speculation. During the pandemic, the FAO denounced the steady rise in prices of commodities, such as grains, meat, soybeans and vegetable oils. For the latter, it recorded an increase of nearly 250 percent over pre-Covid standard levels. Food needs are also energy demands in a world inhabited by just under eight billion people. Calories, indeed, are as essential to the human body as energy sources are to manufacturing. And just as productive forces are paying the price of war, risking closure, humanity is concretely experiencing the danger of starvation. This is why the controversy mounted after the recent provocation on insect meal appears to be futile. The stance, however questionable in timing and complex to metabolize for a country like Italy, should not be taken as a shot fired to start a war. A person’s daily energy intake should be addressed scientifically and realistically. Insect meal is disliked. We agree. But then a viable alternative must be sought. Otherwise, we fall into the same ideological blackmail of “no fuels without ifs and buts.”

As is often the case, the most sustainable solutions come from insiders. While the consistency of Cop27 is being denounced, the decarbonization process in Europe is being criticized, or, in even more detail, in Italy, there is mud-slinging around the new name of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sustainability, the G20 in Bali (Indonesia) shed light on how the vegetable oil supply chain – hit, but not flattened by the storm – has managed to secure the supply for global demand of vegetable oils while avoiding bottlenecks and, at the same time, meeting environmental sustainability standards. 
The summit was sponsored by the Government of Indonesia, as Chair of the G20 2022 Group, in collaboration with the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries, Competere, FAO, WFP, WTO, companies such as Cargill, Sine Darby, and sector organizations such as GAPKI, United Soybean Board, Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil, and NGOs, such as Solidaridad. 
For the first time, key global stakeholders met to discuss, in a first-class context, current challenges with the goal of strengthening the resilience and sustainability of production chains.
However, the G20 in Bali is not enough. It will be possible to talk about food security when, alongside production chains, the processing industry also proves resilient. Without false modesty, we would like to mention how our institute had already proposed the launch of a strategic plan for food commodities to the past legislature. Indeed, we are convinced that it is the task of Parliament to promote an industrial policy for agrifood just as is being done for energy and technological innovation. 
Precisely because we live in a knowledge society, in which all development factors and critical issues are interconnected, we see in digital solutions a potential shoulder to the sector so that it no longer has to deal with future black swans unprepared. 
Using machine learning and blockchain technologies, forecasts of costs and availability of raw materials can be made. Similar solutions have already been successfully applied in the area of renewables, as well as by the steel supply chain. Wheat and soybeans, in fact, are not that different.

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