Food plays a central role in our life. It doesn’t matter if we are foodies who love trying multiple dishes at fancy restaurants, or someone who sees food as nothing but fuel: we all have one thing in common – we need to eat to survive.
Meals frame our day. Eating a varied diet can nourish both body and mind, can bring us joy and connect us with others. But there is something we often forget to reflect about: the big, complex mechanisms that allow us to bring food to the table, i.e the food supply chain.
It is in fact through the food supply chain that food moves systematically – in domino-like motion – from producers to consumers via the processes of production, processing, distribution, retailing and consumption. Food supply chains and food systems have incredibly developed over the past three decades and have yielded many positive results. These results include the widening of food choices beyond local staples – thus satisfying consumers’ preferences in terms of taste, form and quality – and the expansion of off-farm employment opportunities as food industries have developed.
However, the associated rapid structural transformations have also resulted in increasing and significant challenges, with potentially wide-reaching consequences for food security and nutrition. These include the many highly processed, high-calorie and low nutritional value food items that are now widely available and consumed; limited access of small-scale producers and agri-enterprises to viable markets; high levels of food loss and waste; increased incidences of food safety, and animal and human health issues; and an increased energy-intensity and ecological footprint associated with the lengthening and industrialization of food supply chains (FAO, 2018).
Between 21-37% of total greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the global food system (Mbow et al., 2019) and in 2020 an EU evidence review found that this is about to increase by 30–40% by 2050 due to population growth and dietary change. (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies, 2020).
Transitioning to sustainable food systems is therefore an important step to address these global challenges.
Finland is in this sense is a very interesting example. Being the greenest country as well as one of the most technological regions of the world, Finland is now trying to affirm itself as the home to naturally delicious, pure, safe and healthy food and as well as the country where food companies are dynamic and always evolving.
A circular economy network of regional food comprising 5 regions (Lapland, Central Finland, the Åland Islands, the Saimaa Lake District and Uusimaa) has been recently established (SITRA, 2020): the regions are trialing together a sustainable food system, where the development of the region’s own food culture also plays a visible part.
Finland is moving steadily towards a healthy and planet-friendly food chain, where innovation, technologies, new ideas are of utmost importance. Entrepreneurship is playing a central role in the transformation towards sustainable food systems.
Both well-established Finn companies and start-ups are constantly generating technologies, products and services in several sectors related to sustainable food creation, eco-innovations and the circular economy. Applications range from mobile apps designed to rescue leftover food from restaurants to pioneering energy management solutions and transformative food products. Innovations in food systems are constantly evolving.
Being an Italian researcher with a background in agricultural economics – and endowed with a strong passion for both data collection and Finland (not necessary in this order) – I consider myself extremely lucky to have the opportunity to lead a research at Ruralia Institute on precisely this fascinating topic: Entrepreneurship and Innovation Driving Sustainable Food System Transformation.
My research activities – which are in the framework of the multidisciplinary EPANET research network – have just started and are expected to last for the next 5 years. I’m right now focusing on finding answers to a number of research questions aiming to identify, among others, the role that entrepreneurial food innovations play in Finnish and global economies, how food entrepreneurs contribute to shape a more sustainable food systems and what are the successful drivers and future trends in food entrepreneurship.
The final objective will be to promote an understanding of new business opportunities and to produce high-quality research-based knowledge.
I’m just at the beginning of this professional adventure. But I can’t already wait to tell you more about my research findings in the next posts.
Author works as a Senior Researcher in Ruralia Institute in the field of Entrepreneurship in the Sustainability Transformation of the Food System.
FAO (2018), Sustainable food systems – Concept and framework. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/ca2079en/CA2079EN.pdf
Mbow C., Rosenzweig, C., Barioni L. G., Benton T., et al. (2019). ”Chapter 5: Food Security”. IPCC SRCCL 2019. pp. 439–442. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/11/08_Chapter-5.pdf
Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (2020), A sustainable food system for the European Union. Berlin: SAPEA. p. 39. Available at: https://www.sapea.info/topics/sustainable-food/
SITRA (2020), A regional sustainable food system, https://www.sitra.fi/en/projects/regional-sustainable-food-system
Profile photo: Francesca Cesari