Technology at the service of land and people



Under the heading "Who we are, where we come from and where we are going", the new Dreams #spainfoodtechnation stage has taken the pulse of the foodtech industry and highlighted its most disruptive trends

The 22nd edition of Madrid Fusión welcomed with great anticipation the first day of Dreams #spainfoodtechnation, a new space organised in collaboration with ICEX, and with the support of the Alícia Foundation, which combines science and gastronomy to offer a view of the future of food, seeking a balance between health, sustainability and enjoyment. As a starting point, Joan Riera, Food Director at Kantar Worldpanel, the world's leading market research company, has extracted figures from their annual studies to show that food in Spain has changed little in the last ten years, although the way we inform ourselves about what we eat has. "But we have to distinguish between what we say we eat, and what we actually eat, because 60% of the population say they prefer fresh ingredients for a healthier diet and 73% prefer local food, but the reality is the rise of foreign foods or processed foods such as potato chips, whose consumption has increased by 50% in the last ten years", he revealed.

For the expert, the evolution of food consumption depends above all on age. In fact, health comes fourth on the list of reasons for buying a product, ahead of convenience, enjoyment and taste. Riera concluded by alluding to the pace of life and the ageing of the population as the main factors that will determine the food of the future, and he does not see any drastic changes in the next decade. "The lack of time means that we buy more processed food in large supermarkets, where there is more variety. And, as we get older, we look for healthier foods and have more time to shop and cook, but old age also brings loneliness and a return to convenience foods".

Educating consumers about alternative foods

Moderated by Eduardo Cotillas, R&D&I Director of the Spanish Federation of Food and Drink Industries, the first round table of the day discussed the benefits and challenges of researching and bringing to market new ingredients and alternative protein sources, such as those proposed by Poseidona, a foodtech start-up that offers algae biomass as its main source. According to co-founder and CEO Sònia Hurtado, "the development of this industry requires constant investment in R&D and communication to ensure that consumers are aware of its benefits. But it is also essential to have the support of governments to facilitate the implementation of our innovations". In the same vein, David Lacasa, a gastronomy expert at the UCM and partner at Lantern Innovation consultancy, acknowledged that "the transition will be complicated. Start-ups are light years away from a consumer who does not demand these products and who finds it difficult to change his habits without really understanding the environmental impact. The best way to do it is from the restaurant sector, where we are most open to trying new products that we end up using at home".

Together with them, CNTA researcher Raúl Ansó Blanco presented the LIKE-A-PRO project, coordinated by the FUDin technology centre, which aims to facilitate a sustainable, healthy, and accessible diet for all population groups by creating alternative protein products from seven different sources, including rapeseed, fermented mushrooms, and insects. For the specialist, "all protein can be used, but we need to study the market carefully to create marketable products that meet the needs of the market".

Focus on systems based on people and territory

Marta Guadalupe Rivera, a researcher at INGENIO, a joint research institute of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), and the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), also gave an interesting presentation on old systems versus new production systems and the capacity of the emptied Spain to feed us. "There is a need for an agro-ecological transition, which is hampered by the loss of jobs in the sector, as shown by figures such as the closure of more than 400,000 farms since the year 2000. The new models, based exclusively on technology, make us vulnerable and dependent on large, probably international, producers, which also affects us at a nutritional level, as we run the risk of losing our Mediterranean diet", he argued.

For all these reasons, Rivera advocates a return to small-scale polyculture production, "which offers high yields (in fact, 34% of the world's food is produced on plots of less than 2 hectares), or the recovery of indigenous breeds", and calls for dialogue with scientific knowledge, but only to develop new systems that do not distance themselves from the territory and the people. This could create up to 500,000 new jobs in agriculture and repopulate Spain". "The system is broken. Spain is failing in terms of its agricultural policy," he said, admitting that the situation will not change until "the necessary conditions for a better life in the countryside are guaranteed".

Modernising and dignifying the farming profession

The last round table of the morning was moderated by Antonio Fernández Ruiz, CIO of Fullstep and Vice-President of the INTEC Foundation, and focused on new climate-smart crops that propose better practices in terms of sustainability or circularity. Among them, were those implemented by Ekonoke, a pioneer in growing hops in indoor farms to "save beer from climate change", as its founder Inés Sagrario explained. The biggest obstacle? How to pass on the costs in the final price of the product, and that the consumer is willing to pay for it. "We will only achieve this by making society aware that we need to invest in order to eat better", she said. Also, specialising in vertical hydroponics, in this case basil, Néboda is another start-up that is committed to precision agriculture as the future solution to problems such as water or optimising the use of fertilisers, "models that a traditional farmer can adopt with the right training, and that can help to dignify the profession and be a catalyst for new generations".

This is precisely the concern of another member of the round table, Mari Cruz Deogracias, one of the directors of Cielos de Ascara, an eco-social project she coordinates in the Aragonese Pyrenees, which focuses on the recovery of indigenous varieties such as legumes, Legado de Ascara honey and piparras, and also promotes social inclusion. "Agriculture has an enormous role to play in preventing the depopulation of rural Spain, and to do this it is necessary to give social prestige to the farmer", she says, recognising that "soon we will all have to embrace innovations like those proposed here, although I hope it will be in dialogue with traditional systems, to make good use of the benefits proposed by one or the other".






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