📌New call for project proposed by ESA Space Solutions & supported by ICT-AGRI FOOD project aims to stimulate the development of space enabled agritech value chain applications to tackle in a responsible manner the agricultural challenges

⏱️ 27 November 2020

During the last century, food production has seen technological breakthroughs such as mechanization (e.g. tractors) and chemicals application (e.g. fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc.). At the same time, new frameworks known under the common label of “intensive farming” emerged and transformed many farms through a process of mass production: the increase of fields size and yield, monoculture, battery cages and high volume slaughterhouses. These combined changes resulted in the supply of abundant and cheaper food volumes to accommodate demographic growth.

The situation nowadays is still challenged by world demographics where 11 Billion people are expected to have to be fed by 2100. But, in addition, it is now understood that intensive farming schemes have heavily neglected externalities, such as soil impoverishment due to intensive cultivation / heavy machinery or pollution of the aqua sphere due to high amounts of chemicals applied to the fields. The increased occurrence of food related pathologies and intoxications is suspected to be another externality of this current agricultural model. These externalities are now affecting the sector itself, as soils become less productive, neighbours and surroundings suffer pollution and loss of biodiversity, and farmers struggle with their finances (in 2017, European farmers earned on average just under half of what could be gained in other jobs).

This Kick-Start activity aims to stimulate the development of space enabled agritech value chain applications to tackle in a responsible manner the agricultural challenges of 21st century. Three key objectives are defined, in line with the new EU Common Agricultural Policy:

  • Sustainability: agritech applications mitigating impacts on the climate and the environment, landscapes, biodiversity and producing safe and healthy food.
  • Fairness: Ensuring decent revenues for farmers (especially those with more difficulties), rebalancing power in food chain, promoting rural areas and attracting young farmers.
  • Competitiveness: develop the agritech sector through innovation, digitalization, new technologies, rural development and infrastructure, efficient advisory systems and continuous training.

This Kick-Start call is coordinated with the ICT-AGRI-FOOD project, a network of stakeholders (European Research Area Network – ERANET) from across the entire agri-food eco-system. The vision of ICT-AGRI-FOOD is to bring together primary producers, advisors, SMEs, food processors, food retailers, consumers, the public sector and researchers to enable digital technology solutions for a transition towards sustainable and resilient agri-food systems.

Given that agricultural activities spread over large and sometimes remote areas, the current Kick-Start activity considers space enabled applications in particular to address needs such as locating assets in the fields, monitoring crops status and providing reliable connectivity to farmers among others.

TOPICS OF RELEVANCE

  • Climate change. EU agriculture represents 12% of all EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Climate responsible innovation should pursue objectives such as the reduction nitrogen application, the storage of carbon in soils and the efficient use of fuel powered machinery.
  • Biodiversity and landscapes. The loss of biodiversity in Europe can be, in part, attributed to intensive farming practices. The preservation of diversity of nature and farmland is key to the balance of ecosystems and the economy of regional food products, so related to Europe’s identity.
  • Soils. Every year, at world level, it is considered that the equivalent of a land area about the size of Greece of fertile soil is lost. Soil preservation and restoration techniques are known but generally not well monitored, which could be done through innovative solutions.
  • Water. 70% of the world’s fresh water is consumed by agriculture . Protecting the aqua sphere through demand-driven and moderate use of chemicals and optimized irrigation are working solutions that can be supported by space based technologies.
  • Healthy and nutritious food. European consumers are increasingly concerned by individual health and occurrence of major health crisis. The capability of new technologies to monitor and advice for specific crops and fields (rather than to apply generic processes) can increase the production of nutritious and healthy food.
  • Disease prevention. As early as 1940 “scientific studies found that agricultural drivers were responsible for 50 percent of zoonotic diseases that emerged in human populations” and “that will likely increase as agriculture expands and intensifies”. Responsible farming should take into account this risk and mitigate it with appropriate monitoring techniques.
  • Difficult living conditions. the average wage of a worker in agriculture is about half of the average wage in all sectors considered for an equivalent level of education. In addition the farming sector lives on minimal margins and is the recipient of the negative impacts of market fluctuations. The new EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) objectives are to re-balance this situation and space technologies can generate higher value for farmers.
  • Path towards fairness. As of today, some European farmers see monitoring technologies (e.g. Earth Observation crop monitoring) as a means to monitor/control their activity so that they can receive related CAP subsidies. The utilization of satellite data integrated with other technologies should increase transparency and accountability in the sector and reduce the administrative burden on farmers. For example, the payment of CAP greening subsidies could be streamlined and would support small farmers in particular.
  • Revitalizing rural areas. In the country side access to services, employment, social life and entertainment is more difficult and de-incentivizes young farmers. Innovation generating value in rural areas is a great mean to attract workforce, including young workers, and in particular digital technologies with proper training and adequate quality of services.
  • Competitiveness. A path towards higher competitiveness is to embrace the challenges mentioned above with adapted technologies and to focus on innovative decision support systems providing knowledge to the farmer and all stakeholders of the value chain (e.g. operations optimization