Wageningen University & Research organized the fifth edition of the Mansholt Lecture in Brussels on 22 September 2021. The lecture, presented by WUR researcher Sjaak Wolfert was called 'Navigating the Twilight Zone: pathways towards digital transformation of food systems', and addressed the challenges and opportunities of the digitization of food systems.

According to data scientist Sjaak Wolfert, the biggest problem is the fragmentation of digital innovation, as well as the fragmentation and discontinuity in the funding of innovation projects. Large-scale application in the practice of technology from the lab continues to be a major challenge. 

According to Wolfert, the digitization of the agri-food sector is in the twilight zone at the moment: it looks promising, but there is still a lack of clarity and there are pitfalls. It requires scaling up and bridging the gap between the technological possibilities and the willingness of users to engage with them.

Lack of funding
Many digital innovations never see the light due to a lack of funding. This deficiency is mainly at play during the middle part of an innovation project. When an innovation is in the lab stage, it is usually with the help of public funding. Although the actual production of the projects is often funded by private parties who want to bring the innovation to market, there are a lot fewer funding options available for the in-between stages, when a lot of money is needed for the development of prototypes and pilot studies.  

Wolfert says that policymakers should focus on this middle stage. “This is when applications are promising, but public financiers pull out and private providers of finance see too much risk.” 

Finally, Wolfert has two important recommendations. The first one is that digital innovation projects require an integrated approach with constant interaction between all relevant stakeholders, supported by multiple disciplines. 

The second recommendation is that the structural development of ecosystems – facilitated by public and private funding instruments — must be aligned with each other to prevent fragmentation.  

Many more points were raised during the lecture. Read or watch the full summary at wur.nl

For more information: 
Wageningen University & Research