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Young innovators - reshaping the future of food and agriculture - 4 reflections from the 2016 Thought for Food Summit

By Dr Jim Ormond

Inspired by this year's Thought For Food Summit, we wanted to share four reflections from the two days - on the future of food, agriculture and farming – as seen by the next generation.

1. Big data and open data

From individual farmers collecting soil samples; drones using infra-red senors to detect potential water or fertiliser shortages in crops; right up to satellites monitoring global weather patterns – agriculture is now awash with data. This is not only optimising existing models of food production, but also opening new doors to innovation. For instance through using open data resources, such as the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (Godan) initiative - farmers can now compare their yield per hectare, with other farms - helping them to optimise how much water, fertiliser and pesticide to use. Yet this also raises questions around data ownership; farmer privacy and the governance of data.

2. Farmers are more than just food producers

An interesting theme throughout the  summit, was the way in which farmers are described by the next generation. Whereas previously farmers may have been seen simply as 'producers of food', this definition clearly is changing - with the role of the farmer now including data scientists, precision agri-engineers and environmental stewards.

3. Hack-athons and hacking biology

We often hear that young people want to collaborate in new ways, and one of the most interesting is the rapid growth of 'hack-athons'. These are events in which experts in computer programming, software development, graphic designers and project managers, collaborate to use their skills to rapidly build or 'hack' projects for social good. Interesting examples which were mentioned at the Summit include - using open data to address water scarcity in agriculture; new product development and synthetic biology to ensure optimise the nutrition available from food products and big data-driven tools for precision agriculture.

4. The winners...!

Finally special mention should be made to the ten finalists in the Thought for Food Challenge, whose inspiring work ranges from supporting farmers access seasonal labour; using sensors to create large-scale data collection on bee data; to new instant noodles made from cassava flour to yeasts which produce iron and Vitamin A ... and special congratulations to the winning team - "Kulisha" a group of young innovators from Kenya and the USA - who have developed a new way to produce low-cost, high-quality, sustainable fish feed made from insects.

To conclude, and paraphase the opening remarks from the summit... When the world’s passionate dreamers  and doers come together and when the leaders of today meet the leaders of tomorrow anything can happen and everything is possible .

For further details on the Thought for Food summit - see

TFF is a movement dedicated to tackling the global challenge of feeding 9+ billion people through bold, breakthrough solutions. It is comprised of some of the best and brightest minds of the next generation, driven by a desire to invigorate innovation and uproot the status quo

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