The AGRI-FOOD Sector

OPEN DEI will be an essential pillar of the implementation of EU digitisation policies by addressing in particular the “support” to the Large-Scale Pilots (LSPs) and platform projects financed by the European Commission under the Digitising European Industries (DEI) Focus Area and currently ongoing, which work in different strategic sectors: one of them is represented by agri-food.

Description

The food industry is usually considered to be an industry with low research intensity (Charis M. Galanakis, 2016). Farmers and food companies are slower in adopting digital technologies in comparison with other sectors and are just starting adopting and standardising digitisation at proper scale. Innovation and investments in technologies and ICT are differently interpreted according to the company size, but also according to the propensity of the owners.

Nevertheless, the Agri-food sector as a whole (from the fields to the shelves of shops and supermarkets, and catering) remains one of the most important sectors of the current economy and fundamental to face the challenge of food security in the upcoming years. For this reason, the Agri-food sector cannot allow itself to lose the opportunities offered by digitisation.

Agriculture contributed 1.1% to the EU’s GDP in 2018 (Eurostat) and, according to Data & Trends 2019 (FoodDrinkEurope, 2019), the EU food and drink industry employs 4.72 million people, generates a turnover of €1.2 trillion and €236 billion in value added, making it the largest manufacturing industry in the EU and the biggest manufacturing employer in half of the EU’s 27 Member States plus the UK. Just as an example, the agri-food sector value in Italy corresponds to 25% of the Italian GDP (a quarter of the wealth generated in Italy, therefore, is linked to the production and sale of food and drinks).

In general terms, it is necessary to make farms and food industries in Europe aware of digitalisation advantages and benefits, in particular by providing them with success stories and/or testing with them how a technology can concretely be useful. The relationship “technology provider – Agri-food company” is fundamental, to analyse the single case and to realise solutions customised to the specific needs and requirements of the firm.

But some solutions are needed also for those companies which already embraced the Digital Transformation and intend to continue on this path, since some pending issues have not been faced and solved yet. Just as an example, some Agri-food companies (mainly the multinational ones, less the small ones) already embraced digitalization in the last years for different purposes (e.g. to optimise internal operations, for traceability, to manage the warehouse, for logistics and transportation, etc.) and a lot of data are there (generated by the technologies applied inside the company or along the supply chain at the different levels of the food system). However, very often big data remain useless if the company is not able to manage/interpret them (transforming such data into useful information); analytics instruments and skills are needed for managing such a mass of data and to structure the companies in order to get the maximum advantage. In addition, interoperability among different systems and devices cannot still be guaranteed, limiting the success of Digital Transformation from potential users’ point of view.

The opportunity

is a desideratum, but not a reality yet in this sector. It is necessary to show farmers the opportunities offered by digitisation in their specific context, informing and training them on which applications, already available, are the most effective to meet their production needs (including also decision support systems) and to put farmers in the conditions to have access to such innovations, in the full respect of cyber security in terms of data sharing and re-use of data.

OPEN DEI and significant Agri-food Projects covered

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DT-ICT-09 rural economies (cross-domain)

Starting in November 2020

OPEN DEI Activities

To date, two H2020 Innovation Actions, ATLAS and DEMETER (DT-ICT-08) and some other pre-existing more mature projects, IoF2020 IoT LSP, SmartAgriHubs and AgROBOFood (DT-ICT-02), for a total of 5+ projects all working in the agriculture sector, represent the “Agri-food Ecosystem” of OPEN DEI. OPEN DEI will integrate also the winner of the DT-ICT-09-2020 Call (the Commission recently informed the applicants about the evaluation results for their proposals; it is expected that the first grant agreements will be signed by mid-December 2020) considering then its Ecosystem completed.

The mechanism of collaboration activated by OPEN DEI and the Ecosystem’s projects foresees, on the one hand, the set up and animation of Working Groups (WGs) on specific topics required by the projects themselves. Such WGs should be intended as stable groups of people experienced in common issues which discuss among them along regular meetings for making emerge opportunities. OPEN DEI offers a support in practical terms for managing such inter-projects meetings and material exchange (rapporteur, repository, mailing list).

On the other side, exploiting the cross-domain nature of OPEN DEI Action, the main goal of OPEN DEI Agri-food Ecosystem is to populate with agri-food experts the leading community of targeted Task Forces (TFs) launched on specific topics, guided by experienced people from OPEN DEI Consortium, with different iterations which will include meetings, consensus meetings and a final strategic outcome (e.g. White Paper). With TFs, OPEN DEI intends to open a debate and collaborative work environment among cross-domain IAs, where OPEN DEI can validate its original knowledge assets (Platform, Pilots, Ecosystem, Standards) in close co-operation with the representatives of the four domains.

Agri-food domain is led by Tecnoalimenti , an Italian non-profit research organisation active in the Agri-food supply chain since almost 40 years, very close to farmers and food producers needs.