In recent decades, the main emphasis in the field of food production and processing has been on reducing costs and increasing production. This led not only to low margins for the sector, but also to high pressure on habitat and a decline in biodiversity. More work needs to be done within the bearing capacity of nature, climate, water and soil and animal health (one health) and welfare to address the key challenges for Agriculture, Water and Food. This will require cooperation between all parties involved, but also between the various top sectors.
We will need to realise new ways of working and connections throughout the production chain that are in balance with the environment. At the same time, entrepreneurs will have to be able to generate sufficient income without jeopardising food supplies. Moreover, negative impacts on habitat or ecosystems elsewhere in the world should be avoided. In addition to agriculture, rural and built-up areas will also have to change dramatically.
The use of land, soil and water in our country will need to be better coordinated. We are increasingly coming up against the limits of the water and soil system. Climate change is leading to rising sea levels, higher temperatures, and increased flooding or, conversely, extreme drought. The availability of sufficient (drinking) water is also no longer a given. Soil subsidence and low water levels cause a lot of damage to the foundations of buildings and require extra maintenance to be carried out on roads and railways. The North Sea, the Caribbean and other large bodies of water are also suffering from the growing tension between ecosystem health and the ever-increasing demand for renewable energy, extraction of resources, construction materials, shipping and fish.
Central mission Agriculture, Water and Food
The major challenges call for a renewal of the knowledge and innovation agenda in line with the central mission for Agriculture, Water and Food. Its central mission: resilient nature and a robust water and soil system as guiding aspects, both in the built environment and a vital rural area, in which agriculture - in all its diversity - is one of the economic carriers.
In the Netherlands, consumers pay a fair price for healthy and sustainable products and there is sufficient clean (drinking) water available for all users. The Netherlands is climate-proofed and resilient to high water. In the subsurface, uses are aligned. Healthy and biodiverse seas and oceans contribute to our food supply, resource extraction and provide space for generating renewable energy.
Six underlying missions have been defined for Agriculture, Water and Food:
- Resilient nature and vital soil;
- Sustainable agriculture and horticulture;
- Vital rural areas in a climate-proof Netherlands;
- Sustainable and valued food that is healthy, accessible and safe;
- Sustainable and safe use of the North Sea and other large bodies of water;
- A safe and resilient delta.
With precision farming, the farmer knows exactly where which crop has a little too much or too little. This development is not possible without ICT innovations and developments in Big Data, Mobile Communications and Artificial Intelligence.
Crucial role for ICT
Key enabling technologies (KETs) such as AI, Data Science, data analytics and data spaces, Software technologies and Computing and Digital Connectivity Technologies can help achieve innovative solutions for the above missions. Other areas to consider include autonomous robots, digital twins, sensors, human-computer interaction, genomics, bioinformatics and seed technology. KETs are important within multiple missions, making cross-mission coordination for the development of these technologies essential to enable great strides to be made towards concrete applications.
Data-based technology is available for many of the missions mentioned. A 'master plan' is often lacking, preventing the sharing of critical data and chain optimisation. Working on such a master plan will be a priority. The Agriculture & Food Working Group (NLAIC) collaborates on Artificial Intelligence, at Commit2Data (C2D) there is the Agri-Food Theme and on blockchain there is collaboration on applications in the agriculture and food chain (DBC). ICT is also being used for monitoring and simulation, in precision agriculture and making better predictions on water supply and demand management using data. Examples of ongoing projects are the design of membranes to remove nanoparticles from water, and the optimal sharing of data in the agri-food sector, allowing informed decisions to be taken on cultivation, processing and marketing.
The Netherlands in the lead
For the latest knowledge and innovations in agriculture, horticulture, food and water, the rest of the world often looks to the Netherlands. This is logical, because the Dutch knowledge infrastructure, the leading position of the business community and the close cooperation between companies, knowledge institutions and governments have for years been producing wonderful innovations that answer major, societal challenges in the field of Agriculture, Water and Food. Today's challenges call for even more cooperation between government, industry and knowledge institutions. All stakeholders will have to act together and invest in knowledge development and innovation. Not only in the Netherlands, but also abroad. Collaboration provides opportunities that will allow the Netherlands to continue to be the breeding ground for smart solutions to issues in this sector in the future.