The global food supply chain is facing a complex set of challenges.
On the demand side, the situation is characterised by an increasing world population, by an increasing standard of living (especially in the emerging countries) creating demand for a more varied, high-quality diet requiring additional food production. As a result the UN has predicted that food demand will rise by around 70 % by 2050 ( 1 - Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). 2009. Global agriculture towards 2050. ). At the same time, the fast expansion of the bioenergy sector further accentuates the demand for by-products derived from the food production process.
On the supply side, global climate change will aggravate pressures on food production and food supply. In addition, a number of food production systems in the world are unsustainable. Without change, the global food system will continue to degrade the environment and compromise the world's capacity to produce food in the future.
These problems in particular have to be seen in connection with consumers' attitudes, concerns and behaviours, as production is driven by consumers and markets. During the last two decades the complexity of food consumption has increased dramatically. Consumers demand affordable, diversified, high quality and convenient food products responding to their tastes and needs. Concerns regarding various issues, ranging from food safety and environmental protection to ethical considerations, such as fair trading practices or animal welfare, are continuously increasing and result in growing demands by consumer groups for political action. Finally, food consumption habits (including food wastage) can have strong impacts on consumer health and well-being, as well as on primary production and on the environment.
Horizon 2020 addresses this complexity and defines the challenges relating to this sector: ""The challenge is to secure supplies of safe and high quality food and bio-based products and to ensure sustainable management of biological resources, contributing to both rural and coastal development and to competitiveness of the European biobased industries, while preserving terrestrial and marine eco-systems, reducing fossil-dependency, mitigating and adapting to climate change and promoting zero-waste and resource efficiency.""
RELEVANCE AND IMPACT
A KIC on a sustainable supply chain will help meeting Horizon 2020 priorities, namely those defined in the context of the societal challenge ""Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research and the bio-economy"".
This thematic field is in addition highly relevant in terms of economic and societal impact. Questions of food safety and security have a bearing on nearly all sectors of our economy and society, and very often call for regulatory action.
The food industry is the largest manufacturing sector in Europe and plays an essential role in Europe's wider economic development. Despite its relevant role, the competitiveness of the European food and drink industry is being challenged. Over the last decade, Europe's share of the global market has declined from 25 % to 21 % in the face of competition from emerging economies, such as China, India and Brazil. Increasingly unable to compete on cost alone, the European food industry needs to be able to add value by creating healthier, more sustainable and resource-efficient products if it is to reverse this decline.
Action is needed to ensure a climate resilient and sustainable global food system while meeting the increasing food demand within the constraints of available land and declining fish stocks, protecting the natural environment and safeguarding human health.
A KIC in this area will focus on the food supply chain. This focus lends itself particularly well to the holistic approach of a KIC. It comprises resource input in the very beginning of the chain (fertilisers, etc.), food production, processing, packaging and distribution; and it ends with the consumers which might be a specific priority of a KIC (reduction of food waste, healthy nutrition, etc.). The objective is to ensure a more efficient and effective food supply chain system, while improving the sustainability and traceability in all parts of this chain.
Addressing the food supply chain via a KIC will thus give the possibility to address not only some of the major economic and societal relevant challenges Europe is facing, but also to mobilise investment and long-term commitment from the business sector – namely, in the deployment of new and innovative technologies, processes and knowledge to increase sustainable food production, processing, packaging and distribution, to reduce waste and promote better nutrition. Through its integrative approach, a KIC in this area will be able to influence the industry approach to focus more on consumer-driven innovation, thereby benefiting consumer health and quality of life. This will go along with the potential of new business models and market strategies that focus on consumers' needs and trends and build upon enhanced awareness of the food chain, which can have potential to get innovations and technological possibilities in line with consumer interests and thus create new business opportunities.
A KIC in this area will be very important to overcome the high level of fragmentation of the whole food supply chain. It will blend a critical mass of excellent research, innovation, education and training stakeholders along the whole chain. All elements of the chain (primary sector, food production, food processors, retailers, food service channels and – not least – the consumer) are inextricably linked to each other for the conception of future innovations. A KIC will provide the necessary systemic and transdiciplinary approach to tackle these issues.
The major added value of a KIC in this area will be its role in addressing the current shortage of skills and human resources. Currently, probably as many as half of the European food and beverage manufacturing industries are facing a shortage in scientific and skilled personnel. This is a barrier to innovation in this sector. By integrating education with the other sectors of the knowledge triangle, a KIC will address this issue. It will at the same time offer the opportunity to stimulate new educated entrepreneurial people, capable of developing new innovative technologies and business. This focus on entrepreneurship would be particularly relevant in the food sector, which is characterised by a high number of SMEs.
The major risks associated to the success of a KIC under this theme are mainly related to the necessary accompanying innovation framework conditions, which KICs are not directly addressing. For increasing sustainability throughout the food supply chain, some changes in regulation may be needed in order, for example, to internalise food production costs. Therefore, the KICs need to liaise with ongoing Union and national innovation and policy activities on these matters (see next section).