Within the National Research Programme for Food, Formas announces up to 60 million SEK over three years for projects that contributes to the digital transformation of the food system.
Our food system includes all raw materials, processes and infrastructures that are associated with primary production, industry trade, retail, transport and consumption of food. The food system is the foundation for our food supply and there are clear connections between our food and our health. We are today facing a challenge to provide the global population with food and at the same time there is a big need of extensive changes in the food system in order to fulfil the global sustainable development goals regarding for example, climate and environment. The food sector has here much to gain by integrating the usage of cutting-edge digital competence and digital tools.
In this call, within the The National Research Programme for Food, Formas therefore announces up to 60 million SEK over three years for projects with a clear interdisciplinary approach that combines food science research with digital competences to increase competitiveness and sustainability in the food system.
In this call are also companies or other organisations approved by Formas as an administrating organisation welcome to participate and apply for funding in the call. Please observe that for participating companies apply state aid regulations.
Project length may be up to three years and the maximum grant for a project is 15 million SEK.
Leading international institutions have already established that with future climate changes and the fast-increasing global population, humanity is facing a difficult challenge in providing the projected 10 billion people by 2050. With an increasing population, the demand for nutritious food will increase and at the same time there will be demographic changes, new groups of consumers and changed patterns of food consumption, which will make demands on the capacity of the food sector.
Key food decision makers, such as, the World Bank, are of the opinion that digitisation, that is transforming something digital, and digitalisation, digital communication and interaction between humans, things and activities, could improve the effectiveness in the whole food system as well as contribute to decrease the insecurity in food supply. It is the insecure food supply that are described as the main force behind the development of digital agriculture. The increased usage of Big Data (data of large volume that are collected with digital communication devices and the stored in computer databases for further processing) has been described as a foundation for the digitisation of the agricultural sector. Some analysists predict that the usage of Big Data for precision agriculture and for modelling, for example, crop failures might aid to prevent farming losses and thereby contribute to combat the challenges in food security. Digitisation with focus on Big Data and automation is also an increasing field of interest within aquaculture. With Big Data several parts of the primary production on land and in water as well as in the food industry can be made automatic by robot technology and intelligent computer programs (Artificial Intelligence, AI). The automatic milking system, in which the cow is entering an automatic milking unit and being milked by a robotic arm while sensors record and analyses her health status, is an example of that, available since the early 90s.
Today we speak about the fourth wave of digitalisation, commonly referred to as the Internet of Things, which means that it is not just people who use the Internet to access and share information, but also different types of entities, such as vehicles, appliances, and machinery.
New digital tools are described to be the solution to decrease the losses and wastes in the food chain. For example, Sweden has a goal to halve the food waste by the year 2030. Redistribution of food with the help of digital tools. Digital market places in which both restaurants and suppliers can take part of valuable information about each other and match products and services for a more efficient trade, can also contribute to a decreased food loss and food waste. Digital market places and information platforms facilitates for smaller companies to reach out globally and the consumer can participate in trade directly without having to go through a retailer, which will reduce intermediate steps and contribute to an increased efficiency. It will provide the consumer with a larger opportunity to customise his or her food and choose food from own preferences regarding health, ethics and sustainability. Digital information about different products’ climate impact can contribute to more climate friendly purchases. Furthermore, digital platforms enable an increased transparency and traceability in which authorities as well as individual consumers may ensure a reliable food safety. Through blockchain technology, where all parts in a chain share the same digital information, a more trustworthy information is obtained regarding buyers as well as regarding products and origin.
Even if a digital transformation of the food system is claimed to be able to contribute to an increased food security in the face of future climate changes and increased global population, there are critics who warn that the increased digitisation and digitalisation will result in new challenges, especially socio-ethnic ones. Will knowledge be replaced by algorithms and digital applications and how will this affect the development of the food system? Who owns the generated data? The access to generated data will also vary in different parts of the world because of different infrastructure, knowledge, rules and costs. Can an increased digitalisation contribute to an increase in vulnerability of the food system at different types of crises?
It is clear that the digitisation of society is becoming increasingly prevalent and affects producer as well as the consumer. Both researchers and recipients in the food system states that digitalisation, AI and automation is a prioritised area or tool in to increase the competitiveness of the food sector and a transformation towards a sustainable food production and consumption. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD also have, in their most recent OECDs Science and Technology Outlook Rapport 2018, focus on how digitalisation techniques such as robots and AI may change and develop different research disciplines. OECD also states that the tools may help to bring the research forward and increase the quality.
Sweden's government has set five priority areas to be analysed from a digitalisation perspective by means of the "Digital first" approach. One of these areas is the food chain. In the government's action plan for the Swedish food strategy A National Food Strategy for Sweden – more jobs and sustainable growth throughout the country (prop. 2016/17:104) it is stated that the opportunities that digitalisation brings may result in new ways for the food industry to increase the productivity and a competitive food industry is important for a sustainable growth and employment.
In dialogue with actors in the food sector, the need for strengthen collaboration between and within all actors in the food sector; academia, research institutes, industry and public sector is frequently raised. While the possibilities to use digital tools in the food system are increasing it is noted that the rate of implementation is in general slower compared to other sectors. One explanation is described to be the lack of collaboration between industry and academia.
The call aims to promote research projects with a clear interdisciplinary approach, which combines food science research with digital competences (for example, digital services, digital tools and Big data), to increase competitiveness and sustainability in our food system. It may be research projects that aims to apply digital tools in food science but also collaborations between researchers within academia/research institutes and public sector/industry in research- and development projects to create new digital services, products and processes in the food system.
Other questions of interest may be how different actors in the system are affected and integrated with the digital transformation, the development of artificial intelligence and automation, the fulfilment of society's increased demand for transparency and traceability, the reduction of loss and waste and the emergence of new digital business models. Another important issue is how an increased digital transformation of the food system affects society with possibilities and critical aspects such as health, law, ethics and morals.
New collaborations and collaboration between different parts of society is encouraged. In this call are also companies or other organisations, approved by Formas as an administrating organisation, welcome to participate and apply for funding in the call. Please observe that for participating companies apply state aid regulations. International collaborations are also encouraged.
Formas funds research for sustainable development. How the project is expected to contribute to meeting global challenges, the aims of the national food strategy and/or other relevant national or international strategies and aims, such as – for example – the government’s sustainable consumption strategy, may also be elaborated on in the project application. Perspectives relating to digitisation or perspectives on gender, class, ethnicity and other social aspects should also be included in research projects where applicable.
The call is within the National Research Programme for Food. The research programme is a part of the government’s action plan for the Swedish food strategy A National Food Strategy for Sweden – more jobs and sustainable growth throughout the country (2016/17:104). Its purpose is to support the knowledge and innovation system in order to help bring about increased productivity and innovation in the food supply chain and sustainable food production and consumption. Find out more about the National Research Programme for Food (in Swedish)
Project length may be up to three years and the maximum grant for a project is 15 million SEK. Formas has committed up to 60 million SEK for the years 2019-2021.
In the call text you will find everything you need to know when applying. For example what the application shall contain, how the application is registered in the application system Prisma, information about administrating organizations, evaluation criteria and the assessment process.
A webinar about the call and the rules for state aid for companies will be broadcasted on June 18 at 10.00 AM. The webinar will be in Swedish but you can ask questions and receive answers in English during the broadcast.