(ITALY)

Seeds&Chips is the world’s leading food innovation summit.

I attended the event and in a series of articles that will be published on here over the next few days, I’ll give you a real taste of how the Milan summit went.

During his opening speech, the founders and chairman of Seeds&Chips, Marco Gualtieri said: “We are just at the beginning. We want to support innovation; we want to support young people and startuppers to make a better food system because we all have to live in a good planet. There is no planet B. We are just here to accelerate the innovation process.”

Young people were the protagonists of the summit, with every session featuring at least one tennovator or under-30 speaker. Marco believes that, in order to innovate, it is essential to include and engage young people in the food discussion. He succeeded.

This edition’s focus theme was water. During the four days, several talks and discussions were dedicated to the exploration of SDG 6 – Access to Water and Sanitation for All – and the importance that water plays for global sustainable development. The event’s Call Waterfirst initiative saw 65 projects from 23 countries compete for the opportunity to exhibit at Seeds & Chips. Out of the 30 selected projects, the top five winners were: Folia Water, the world’s most affordable water filter; Desolenator, an integrated system generating drinkable water through a solar panel; FinappTech, an agricultural water management system; Nano Sensor Systems and Utilis Corp, the overall winner of the €10.000 prize, which identifies fresh water leaks by analysing satellite imagery (we also featured this company on our Instagram account during the SDG6-focused week).

The first speaker was Cristina Bowerman, President of Ambasciatori del gusto. She talked about the problem that the Italian restaurant business is facing.

Cristina Bowerman: “Sac is founded on connecting people, ideas and solutions to shape a better food system.”

Her message was clear: “We don’t have a united voice.”

So in an effort to end this problem, her team founded an association that includes people from across the Italian restaurant industry. Ambasciatori del gusto provides training and support on products, food waste and water waste.

Cristina said: “We are fully committed to working together in order to dream of a better world that respects the food system and empowers each actor involved.”

Kerry Kennedy, head of R.F. Kennedy Human Rights, was up next and she invited the audience to reflect on the violation of human rights that happens every single day.

She said: “There is a human right to food. Food belongs to every human being on this earth, and that means that governments have a responsibility to ensure that no person goes to bed hungry – one out of three people on our earth today will be touched by malnutrition.”

Kerry left the stage to Princess Viktória de Bourbon de Parme, Patron of Save the Children, who talked about food security and the urgency to improve and develop farming conditions.

She said: “Farmers of the future, tech and innovation is not only about improving yield, mitigating climate change and being more sustainable. It is also about flourishing rural life, making sure that farming becomes less labour intensive and less socially isolated because all of these are the ingredients that will increase the food security for all of us, and those farmers of the future are the ones we need here.”

The last speaker of the first session saw Aldo Ceriotti, Institute Director at National Research Council, talking about the process that should be followed to achieve a constant flow of innovation. “To face the current global challenges we need knowledge because knowledge is what gives us power, the power to change things. We need to convert knowledge into innovation and innovation into solutions and start the research cycle again to achieve a better life.”

The morning continued with the much awaited keynote speaker Howard Schultz, Executive Chairman of Starbucks. He started with a message to young people: “Dream Big and then dream bigger, a more innovative dream, a more inclusive dream. Surround yourself with great people and leave ego at the door, you will succeed with others.”

The story of Starbucks is intrinsically connected with the life of Howard; it finds its foundations in the scars and values that he internalised during the early years, as the son of a father that was denied support from his employer when most needed. Howard talked about love and humanity, saying “it is going to be the work of all of us to recognise that we have to do much more for the communities we serve, the employees who work with us, and in a sense, the role and responsibility that businesses and business people have, in view of the fact that governments across the world are not doing their share. Businesses will have to do more.”

This concept was a recurring theme throughout the summit, which can best be summarised in the catchphrase: If not now, when? If not me, who?

Businesses need to change and find a balance between profit, social impact and conscience. It can’t continue to be just about money.

“Many decisions in business don’t necessarily have to be positive to the bottom line…” he added. Some decisions must be made for the sake of being humane, have a sense of conscience and citizenship; and most times these decisions can turn out to be the most important ones. Only the businesses that choose this direction will see a positive response in the long-term.

“The consumer today is going to support that company, that product and enterprise whose values are comparable with their own. If your values are not honest, truthful, trusted, real…you can forget it. It is the wrong direction.”

Besides love and humanity, Howard also emphasised the importance of individual and collective responsibility, saying: “We have to do everything we can for the people we employ and work with, and do everything we can to serve our community. And obviously, do everything we can to improve and enhance and preserve the planet.”

The talk was concluded with a call to action: “We have a responsibility beyond ourselves to embrace our differences, to see beyond our self-interest.”

 

“I think that the difference sometimes between winning and losing is the ability to persevere, to strongly believe in what you are doing and you must have the will to sacrifice almost everything for what you are trying to do. The other thing is that you must surround yourself with like-minded people who have a skill-base and experience beyond your own and then lastly build solid foundations.” – Howard Schultz

 

Teenovators then proceeded to ask a few questions, and Howard highlighted once more the importance for businesses to be 100% transparent with their consumers. He also believes that there is a significant opportunity in the plant-based food sector. Lastly, he encouraged the audience to have impact and make a difference in the community, one person at the time.

After this inspiring talk, the day went on analysing the innovations that can create a dialogue between innovators, corporations and stakeholders in the farming industry to achieve the SDGs.

Adrian Percy, Executive Committee member of Crop Science at Bayer, presented the innovations that, in Bayer’s opinion, are going to make a difference in people’s lives, namely: stem cells research, robot-assisted surgery, big data, artificial intelligence, gene editing and agtech. As we have seen in my previous article, sustainable development is only achievable if we find a way to treat our biosphere sustainably. One of the top three causes of climate change and pollution is agriculture (with 22% of greenhouse gasses linked to food production); hence we need to develop the tools and skills to fix this industry. Adrian believes that the future of agriculture will depend on technologies that will increase yields and protect crops; conserve native habitats; grow weather-resistant crops that can minimise the need for water and fertiliser; and tech enabling gene-editing, ensuring future plant viability. Some of these technologies are already available but need to be developed even further. An example is precision irrigation, a technology that could dramatically reduce water usage in agriculture. Still, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, robotics and sensors are all technologies that will help feed our growing population, by increasing agricultural production, producing nutrient-rich foods, reducing pollution, food waste and energy consumption.

Under 30 Adam Behrens is the Co-Founder and CSO of Cambridge Crops, an innovative startup, and winner of Seeds & Chips Visionary Award. The startup developed an invisible, water-based, edible package to extend the shelf life of produce. This innovation has the power to reduce food waste drastically, at the producer and consumer level.  He believes that consumer perception will be one of the main points to tackle to make this new technology globally accepted.

The last speaker on the first day was John Roulac, Founder of Nutiva.

John has a clear idea of how agriculture should be: part of the solution and regenerative.  Regenerative agriculture increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. It is a way of farming that works on today’s sun.

He thinks that farmers can drive innovation, especially with the help of new technologies. John also stressed the need for a system to allow consumers to know exactly what they are eating, suggesting that a universal label would surely help. I will come back on this in my last article of this Seeds & Chips edition, in which  Matthew Lange will talk about the Internet of Food.

The first day of Seeds & Chips 2018 was an excellent opportunity to learn more about innovations and technologies that will shape the future of our food system. It is safe to say that we can expect in the near future the development of digital tools for the big and small farmer, like robots and farm management technologies. We can also anticipate that more techniques for the preservation of produce and the restoration of soil will be advanced. Moreover, as Ann Tutwiler, General Director of Biodiversity International said, new crops and forgotten foods will be introduced to the market.

Stay tuned for more articles on Seeds & Chips 2018!