The challenges facing the food industry in the future are many including some that are more than a little daunting. Thankfully, some of the most inventive minds and creative thinkers are solving food supply chain problems many people didn’t know existed. Dennis Dimick, a former editor with National Geographic fleshed out what he considered some of the overarching issues during a keynote presentation during the 2018 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) annual meeting and exposition. He suggested that the food industry goals to navigate the hurdles of the future include: freezing agriculture’s footprint; growing more food on current farms; using resources more efficiently (i.e. water); shifting diets; and reducing food waste. Using a series of captivating photos to illustrate his points, Dimick said we are living in an Anthropocene era and hypothesized what it might mean for the global environment in general and for agriculture specifically as global population by the year 2050 is expected to approach 10 billion.

Joel CrewsDimick along with other presenters during IFT18 made the point that what the mushrooming population means for the agriculture sector is multi-faceted and not at all a one-size-fits all proposition. He acknowledged the potential for solutions that are based on potentially promising genetic manipulation to create new or better food products in the supply chain isn’t the silver bullet. “Ag can’t be fixed by biotech alone,” he said, suggesting that opportunities to stem some of the world’s food supply chain challenges are untapped, including sea-based farming and exploiting the country he considers the world’s next breadbasket due to its availability of undeveloped land and natural resources.

While man’s impact on the environment is a hotly debated issue, the ability of the current food supply chain to keep up with demand in the coming decades is a focus of some of the most innovative thinkers in the world. Many of these food-industry thought leaders were gathered under one roof at Chicago’s McCormick Center during the IFT event.

Some compelling examples of great ideas meeting great food challenges came from some unlikely companies highlighted by Donna Rosa, owner of Aidtrepreneurship. Rosa travels the world to work with a wide variety of small agribusiness-based enterprises in developing countries to grow their innovative solutions to address regional and global problems related to food production, processing and food insecurity. She cited many examples of problem-solving businesses who are overcoming unimaginable odds. It is the innovators behind these companies and many other entrepreneurial business start-ups at IFT that foster optimism and hope in the face of a challenged food industry. Their attention is trained and most have global impact when it comes to creating solutions for agribusinesses that tackle current and future challenges that go beyond creating more food for more people. The businesses Rosa has worked with have started developing food solutions that address global cultural issues too, including nutritional disorders, food safety among street food vendors, refugees in need, and the labor intensiveness of farming land in undeveloped countries.

The common thread among these businesses, Rosa said, is they are “using food to nurture people and nations.” The innovations shared at IFT are diverse in their goals and broad in scope. Rosa said we all can learn from these companies by realizing there is no silver bullet or singular target for the solutions that are needed. Based on the brainstorming and ideas coming out of today’s food science community, I think the future is more bright than daunting.

“Find a problem and solve it,” Rosa urged the food technologist-heavy attendees packed in the exhibit hall. “The world needs what you know,” she said.