Apart from natural hazards, there are several factors that threaten food security, such as changes in food preferences, political unrest, and food fraud. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), about 108 million people were facing a severe global food security crisis in 2017. Rising alongside the rapid growth of the world’s human population, this number is expected to exceed 10 billion by 2050.
The expanding population’s greater demand for food supply is likely to compound the lack of food security with poor food quality, food wastage, and sub-par monitoring and testing throughout the food supply chain. A more sustainable, measurable and digitally visible food system is therefore needed to increase and maintain food security.
For this purpose, ICTs can be used to support collaboration, prevent fraud, and offer remote real-time monitoring. ICT tools such as the have transformed nearly every industry and “currently represent one of the most vivid transformation processes in global agriculture and food systems”.
In a review led by the KPR Institute of Engineering and Technology, researchers in India sought to summarize how various ICT tools could help to “sense and quantify” the food system, and to highlight the possible enhancements Industry 5.0 technologies could bring to the food industry.
Industry 5.0: DT, data analytics and AI
While many businesses are still focused on Industry 4.0 — essentially, the fourth industrial revolution brought about by IT developments — and Industry 5.0 is a somewhat novel concept, the review pointed to the latter as what the food system should focus on to address food insecurity.
The EU defines Industry 5.0 as one that “provides a vision of (an) industry that aims beyond efficiency and productivity as the sole goals” and “uses new technologies to provide prosperity beyond jobs and growth while respecting the production limits of the planet”. In other words, technology should be harnessed to improve the well-being of society.
Industry 5.0’s key drivers are artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Everything (IoE), 6G communication tech, blockchain tech, digital twin (DT), big data analytics, cloud computing (CC) and collaborative robots (cobots). These drivers have tremendous potential to improve processes throughout the entire food supply chain, from the agricultural production process to the food distribution and retail stage.
DT, for instance, is expected to enhance food production, help to identify supply chain failures and their causes, and optimise decision-making while minimizing food loss. A proposed DT for the food supply chain comprises three elements: a physical element consisting of multiple sensors to collect data on the food production site, a digital element that contains relevant information gathered from these sensors, and a connective element that facilitates the interaction of the first two elements.
The DT will then incorporate “different data analytics, optimisation approaches, and simulation platforms” that include software and AI techniques to identify potential issues in food processing that affect food quality and lead to food loss. Additionally, it will provide feedback to improve process performance and product quality, as well as actionable data (such as remaining shelf life) to aid in the decision-making process. At the same time, IoE provides “huge data collection capabilities” that will necessitate new schemes to ensure trust and traceability within the food system.
The large amount of data collected requires proper data processing to store and extract important information, which is where CC comes in. This allows users to directly and securely access data from the cloud for further analysis. They can then use relevant data to predict trends and quality parameters in food processing and traceability systems, thereby enhancing supply management.
Removing blockers with blockchain tech
In addition to data monitoring and collection, data security and transparency are essential for Industry 5.0 to succeed. Blockchain technology has so far been able to provide more robust data security with its decentralized and distributed ledger systems that use encryption algorithms and smart contracts to automate the agreement process among different parties. In fact, it is nearly impossible to manipulate recorded data on the blockchain and as such, it can improve trust among those involved in the food system.
Blockchain tech is instrumental in food supply chain traceability, thanks to its ability to solve problems in situations where there are several “untrusted players”. This is especially important in food safety management in agri-food supply chains, where trust among participants is critical. In times of crisis, blockchain tech can optimise the process of back-tracking food supply chain operations to locate the source of problems like food contamination.
Furthermore, blockchain-based systems are more homogenous and enable interoperability across multiple entities in the food supply chain, as well as across diverse supply chains. The review noted that this would bring “to a higher level the issues of traceability and abilities of food withdrawal from the market”, in accordance with food safety standards,
Already, companies like Walmart, Nestlé, European retailer Carrefour, Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com and Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn have begun implementing this technology in the food supply chain. Carrefour, for instance, uses it to verify standards and trace food origins.
Cobots and 6G
Industry 5.0 seeks to use human capabilities in collaboration with robots — cobots — for different applications. Cobots are typically equipped with highly responsive smart sensors that can detect any unwanted activity, and they provide “user-preferred and resource-efficient solutions and fast product delivery to customers”. They can also help to improve food supply chain productivity.
The review stated that the utilisation of cobots that can work alongside human labour had not been properly explored and that their integration could “transform the food processing industry, where safe collaboration with human workers can increase the utilisation of highly skilled workers and reduce health risks”.
The review also noted that the rapid growth in potential applications of existing 5G communication technology is driving new technological advancements to meet the resulting bandwidth and infrastructure requirements. This brings us to another key Industry 5.0 driver, 6G tech, which is expected to be witnessed in the next decade.
6G can help to fulfil coverage, reliability and connection speed requirements and support “high-quality services in the supply chain process”. 6G is “expected to enhance the capabilities of existing communication technologies” that can help to increase industrial productivity. This will no doubt provide support to the other aforementioned key drivers of Industry 5.0 and in doing so, establish a more efficient, secure and robust food supply chain that is better equipped to solve problems related to food insecurity.
The review concluded that despite the generally positive impact ICTs may have on the food supply chain and therefore, on food security, their implementation should not result in loss or reduction of profits and must be carefully evaluated.
The review added that in order for the food industry to benefit from ICTs, the “modernization of food storage, processing and distribution facilities must be carried out, together with the alleviation of the digital divide between different countries, especially in long and more complex food systems”.
“Toward Better Food Security Using Concepts from Industry 5.0”
Authors: Selvakumar Guruswamy, et al.