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The Smart Agrifood Summit Gathered in Málaga over 1600 Proffesionals from the Agrifood Sector

EIT Food South participated in one of the leading events of the Agrifood sector, the Smart Agrifood Summit in Málaga

05 Oct 2021
EIT Food South

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of what role alimentation plays in our lifestyles, has become even more relevant. This is why the agrifood sector is currently living a new wave of innovation and research in order to face and overcome all the present and future challenges.

With this at the core of its organisation, the Smart Agrifood Summit positions itself as one of the leader events of the sector, bringing together the main, public and private, players in the European scene of innovation and digital transformation of the agrifood sector. This event took place in Málaga, Spain, September 30th and October 1st and EIT Food participated as a “bronze partner”.

This hybrid event made possible a face-to-face, as well as online, networking opportunity for its participants, giving them the chance to find new stakeholders and ways of increasing fundings and internationalisation.

In addition to this, the Smart Agrifood Summit aimed to promote new products, services and innovative projects: the event offered an agenda filled with interesting talks and round tables. EIT Food participated in three different round tables on September 30th:

The first round table, in which EIT Food was involved, was “The Role of Women in the Fight Against Depopulation” moderated by Pilar Parra, 2nd Vicepresident and Deputy of Economy, Finance, Assistance to Municipalities City Council of Jaen. EIT Food was represented by Elvira Domingo, EIT Food South RIS Programme Manager along with Nazaret Mateo, CEO of Entre Setas and 2020’s winner of the “Innovative Entrepreneurship” award of the Growing Consciousness programme; María del Mar Delgado, Professor and researcher at the University of Córdoba (UCO) and Vicerector for International Projection; Benjamín Lana, President of Gastronomía Grupo Vocento, Lucía Velasco, Ganadería Álvarez Velasco and Brígida Jiménez, Director of Cabra Centre of (IFAPA).

Interesting points were discussed about the depopulation of rural areas and how women play a big part in preventing this tendency, for example Pilar Parra said: “Women have the role of the dynamization of rural areas, they make the decisions, and nowadays more and more women decide to become entrepreneurs of the rural sector” to which Lucía replied: “in order to innovate, there has to be access to a technology that, as of now, is not available in rural areas, sometimes there is not even access to schools. In my opinion, this is what should be solved first: covering the basic needs.”

Elvira Domingo then added to this idea: “We need to always encourage women to pursue scientific careers, educate them about entrepreneurship and support them along the way like we do in the EWA programme. We have to empower them and promote more active roles in farming and agricultural businesses. We have to create a community in which women can share ideas, questions and support.” María del Mar Delgado agreed on this by adding the following: “Research is essential in the rural world. Scientific evidence helps making the right decisions and the rural world can benefit tremendously from it and grow from it. There are a lot of women that work in research, but very few want to be leaders and this is what we have to work on.”

Lara Rodríguez, RIS Project Manager at the EIT Food stand in the Smart Agrifood Summit.

After this, EIT Food participated in a second debate about “European Funding Mechanisms for Innovation in the #AGRI Sector”, a side-event organised by Finnova. During this round table, Begoña Pérez Villareal, EIT Food South Director, shared with the audience EIT Food’s mission and presented EIT Food programmes and funding opportunities for agrifood startups. “EIT Food works to overcome the existing challenges of the agrifood sector. We want everyone to have access to healthy, fair and sustainable food.” In this round table two European projects of the agriculture field were presented: Agritech Startup Europe Accelerathon and Interreg HIBA.

And to finish the day off, EIT Food organised a third round table: “Are European Food SMEs Ready for Artificial Intelligence?”. A survey amongst food companies across the continent was conducted to find the answer to this question and the results were presented during the session. Different actors of the value chain exchanged opinions and shared their experiences regarding the implementation of artificial intelligence, its obstacles and benefits. On balance, how can the agrifood sector be digitalised and transformed by adopting advanced technologies?

The debate was moderated by Carmen Galindo, EIT Food Project Manager and had the involvement of Antonio Vicente, CEO of AI Talentum, Jon Koldo Izaguirre, from the SME Bunt Planet, Idoia Olabarrieta, researcher at AZTI and Paz Revuelta, Product Manager New Business Acceleration at Telefónica.

“Are SMEs ready for Artificial Intelligence? 90% of the food companies are SMEs and of these, 60% understand the potential of AI at a production level” shared Carmen Galindo with the participants.

Antonio commented that “there are still some areas that find it difficult to adopt AI within a company. SMEs can use the same technology as a bigger company, but SMEs have a more local vision.” To this statement, Paz Revuelta added “there is clear evidence of what kind of AI is being adopted, it’s mainly Big Data, data analysis and robotics.”

Another interesting statement from Carmen Galindo was that 37% of the companies state that their management board does not really understand what AI is, and how their companies can benefit from it. “The most concerning factor is the lack of knowledge of the positive impact artificial intelligence can have on businesses. The problem comes when SMEs have to focus on solving the daily challenges and do not spend time planning and creating strategies. Although the pandemic has forced a change in this tendency, they are slowly but shortly becoming more and more interested in gathering information” Idoia Olabarrieta said.

Only 12% of the companies want to invest in the near future in artificial intelligence. “Companies need clear examples of success stories to be able to see its (AI’s) rentability”, Antonio Vicente added. This is why young data scientists are needed, in order to understand the data, understand if something is working or not, and SME’s usually do not have time to work on this.

Slowly the conversation shifted into another key point of the question: “The generational handover is problematic, specially in the agricultural sector. Innovation can be an appeal for younger talents” as Paz Revuelta stated.

To sum up, the participants tried to briefly reply to the starting question “Are SMEs ready for Artificial Intelligence?”. The conclusions? A lot of research is still needed in order to translate years of experience to something objective. But it is important to remember: “AI does not substitute the person, it helps professionals improve their productiveness and reduce costs”, Idoia Olabarrieta concluded.

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