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World Food Day 2020: The agrifood startups battling COVID-19

12 October 2020

This World Food Day, we are celebrating and supporting the agrifood startups who are playing a crucial role in battling world hunger and other challenges presented by COVID-19.

World Food Day

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the resilience of the food sector, exposing some of its greatest weaknesses and also highlighting some of its most important strengths. With ever changing restrictions, robust safety measures and new challenges, entrepreneurs across Europe and the world are innovating and sharing ideas about how to futureproof the sector.

On this World Food Day – a celebration of the creation of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) – agrifood entrepreneurs are arguably more important than ever before. The day brings together governments, media, the general public, NGOs and businesses as they promote the awareness and actions surrounding sustainability, worldwide hunger and malnutrition - issues which have all been worsened by the wake of the pandemic. There are already approximately 820 million people hungry in the world (1), and COVID-19 is expected to add between 83-132 million more depending on the rate of economic recovery (2).

 

How EIT Food is supporting agrifood startups 

Our mission at EIT Food is to build an inclusive and innovative community with a shared passion to transform the food system. A critical part of this is to fast track and develop food entrepreneurship with high, long lasting impact and social purpose. Our community is developing new knowledge, products and services as we look to transform the food system to be fairer and better for our health, the environment and the future - and COVID-19 has only accelerated this drive.

One way we did this during the pandemic is by providing investment or funding to over 20 agrifood startups via our COVID-19 Bridge Fund and COVID-19 Rapid Response Call for Innovation. These startups were selected to prevent delay to innovation activities in the wake of the pandemic as well as to fast-track those with high impact solutions relating to COVID-19, improved nutrition, supply chain disruption and food safety risks.

“Startups will play a critical role in the European post-COVID recovery effort, and could provide the solution to the future challenges we will face as a society. These new investments will be a vital lifeline to many game-changing innovators and reflects EIT Food’s ongoing commitment to delivering sustainable, healthy and trusted food systems. Today, more than ever, we are focused on supporting our greatest entrepreneurial minds to help them overcome the impact of the pandemic and embed resilience in the agrifood sector.”

Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food

One of the Rapid Response Call for Innovation’s beneficiaries is MeDico-Health, a study led by Thomas Skurk of the Technical University of Munich (YUM). Thomas is leading a research team at hospitals in Italy and Germany to study whether micronutrient deficiencies have a correlation with the severity of disease in COVID-19 patients.

Micronutrient deficiencies are often prevalent in low-income communities, but also have significant presence in industrialised countries, too (3). They are typically experienced due to an imbalanced diet, and the absence of iodine, vitamin A and iron in particular can have lasting impacts on health - notably in children and pregnant women in low-income countries (3). 

Tackling world hunger

These deficiencies, as well as undernutrition and hunger, are often caused by lack of sufficient access to food and the associated diseases that come with eating too little (4). Because of this, finding a solution to worldwide hunger is no simple task. However, given that approximately one third of food is wasted globally (5), reducing food waste could be considered one of the primary pathways to achieving this.

This could be because food commodities traded on international markets and wasted in one part of the world can impact food availability and prices in other parts (6) where people might already be at risk and food insecurity is already widespread. Furthermore, minimising the economic losses associated with food waste, which sits at around US$400 billion (7), could directly feed back into local communities that produce food but also suffer from hunger and food insecurity at the same time. 

In its mission to combat this, the United Nations’ second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030. It is estimated that cutting food waste by just a quarter could feed 870 million hungry people globally (5).

Source: United Nations 

With this in mind, EIT Food has supported a number of food waste solutions and initiatives as part of our Rapid Response Call. One is FRIENDS Reduce Food Waste, a project developing an end-to-end pricing solution for German supermarkets that is expected to reduce food waste by more than 40%. The solution aims to ensure a smoother supply chain of perishable goods, passing savings onto low-income families and SME customers.

“The climate crisis, even as it's creeping up on us rather than pouncing (like COVID), is a much bigger threat than what we're experiencing now. The food system is a large culprit, but it also offers opportunities to draw back our carbon emissions with impact, at scale and with a profit. Food waste prevention should be one of the first priorities of policymakers, consumers and businesses,” says David Kat, who leads the FRIENDS Reduce Food Waste project.

Due to various reasons, food waste actually increased in some parts of the world as a result of the pandemic (8). Farmers and producers were faced with food surpluses due to supply chain disruptions and the closure of food outlets, forcing the disposal of fresh produce in many cases across the world. For example, dairy farmers in the UK were forced to dump thousands of litres of milk after demand from the hospitality sector plummeted as the nation followed ‘stay at home’ guidelines (9). 

Fighting against this, another food waste venture, Robin Food, is working to support vulnerable people by transforming surplus vegetables into healthy soups, and distributing them to those in need in Belgium. Thanks to the financial support from the Rapid Response Call for Innovation, Robin Food - ‘the story of a social soup’ - is planning to add more products to its offerings and expand its efforts in more countries across Europe.

 

"We are a social enterprise working alongside 14 local cooperatives that mainly consist of farmers who process their own products,” says Paolo Fusaro from Robin Food. “We support farmers to help them distribute these products to the market."

“We count on our academic and retail partners in the project to support this product development,” explains Joris Aertsens, the lead of Robin Food. "The potential is enormous. Collaborating with retailers like Colruyt Group (Belgium) and Eroski (Spain) can maximise the impact. It could mean a big leap in tackling two social problems at the same time: more people having better access to healthy and affordable food and a reduction in waste of surplus food.”

Everyday is World Food Day

World Food Day represents the bigger picture for the food sector - and society as a whole. By coming together, we can secure the future of the food system and transform the way food is valued, produced and sustained. 

As part of the mission of the EIT Food community, we support innovative impactful agrifood startups and entrepreneurs to deliver new food innovations and businesses across Europe. We offer these startups access to over 100 leading agrifood businesses, universities and research organisations and provide long term support for as long as they need. If you are an entrepreneur or building an innovative startup, you can contact us to find out how you can get involved with transforming the future of the food system.  

Further reading

Sources

  1. World Health Organization (WHO): World hunger is still not going down after three years and obesity is still growing – UN report
  2. FAO: World Food Day 2020
  3. WHO: Micronutrients
  4. WHO: Malnutrition 
  5. United Nations: International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction
  6. FAO: Global initiative on food loss and waste reduction 
  7. FAO: Food loss and food waste 
  8. World Economic Forum: The coronavirus is creating food waste mountains that threaten the environment 
  9. The Independent: Coronavirus: Dairy farmers throwing thousands of litres of milk away as demand dries up in lockdown
EIT Food

About The Author: EIT Food

EIT Food is Europe’s leading food innovation initiative, working to make the food system more sustainable, healthy and trusted.

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