The transition to sustainable and climate-wise food production requires the development and large-scale introduction of new cultivation methods, innovative primary production processes, circular economy solutions, strong nutrition, and food technology competence. Finland has the opportunity to take a leading role in the transition towards a sustainable global food system, and at the same time, benefit from the economic growth opportunities that will emerge during the changes.
Enhancement of the Finnish food-related innovation ecosystem is central in this process. It requires research, technology transfer, talent pool development, product development, industry collaboration, incubation, capital infusion, and a strong collaboration among all these many components in order to flourish (Geels 2004; Markard 2018). An innovation ecosystem should balance new technical practices with alternative ways of organization of markets, land tenure, and distribution of benefits (Leeuwis 2004) to secure a just transition from the old ways to the new.
Creating an ecosystem that can facilitate the transition of the (Finnish) food system calls for leadership and co-vision, win-win solutions, and numerous re-adjustments to establish a competitive and flexible industry. Finland is on its way to become one of the first countries to have a completely transparent, safe, and responsible food chain. Transparency in the food supply chain is ensured by short productions chains and blockchain technologies, safety by ecologically sustainable solutions, and digital devices and responsibility by the utilization of local and renewable energy resources, the recycling of nutrients between production and consumption, and smart packaging. All these novelties are expected to have deep socio-economic-environmental impacts that will affect consumers, food safety, the environment, and businesses in general, including farmers and food producers. As a matter of fact, technologies will provide more precise food information from primary production to end consumers, smart packaging will reduce food waste, the use of local resources will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and help producers spare money on energy bills.
The Finnish food industry aims to be carbon neutral and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2035. This is based on roadmaps for the food industry and the grocery trade introduced in 2020. The Research and Innovation Council of Finland has set up a vision and a roadmap for Finland to become the most attractive and competent environment for experimentation and innovation by 2030.
In March 2021, the Finnish Government launched the Food Research and Innovation Strategy For Finland 2021–2035, whose main aims are to position Finland as a key actor in the transition towards a healthful and sustainable global food system, and to make the country a forerunner and leading testbed for sustainable food system innovations.
Research and innovation activities are central in developing an internationally competitive, sustainable Finnish food system and well-being from food, and thus, an up-to-date research strategy is critical for Finland. The Ruralia Institute of University of Helsinki is striving to facilitate the sustainable transition of the current Finnish food system by conducting multi-disciplinary scientific research and by organizing education activities. The Institute coordinates and participates in development processes aimed at creating and piloting new approaches and innovations to create a sustainable food system.
The Institute has two branches, in Seinäjoki in Southern Ostrobothnia and Mikkeli in South Savo, which are respectively considered to be the Food Province of Finland with a strong entrepreneurial attitude (Seinäjoki) and a region with a strong focus on organic food and innovations (Mikkeli). This stimulates Ruralia Institute to interact and cooperate with a number of different stakeholders (i.e. food industries, development agencies, regional and governmental institutions), and to combine university-level scientific knowledge with practical, solution-oriented approaches aimed at achieving an efficient sustainable food system transition.
Ruralia Institute also aims at filling the gap between consumer-oriented knowledge as well as the feasibility of food and eating solutions by engaging citizens and various actors in research and innovation. This is achieved by taking advantage of the common willingness of Finns to participate in research and to test new solutions. More sustainable food systems will only be possible in the future if they are based on systematic research, collaboration, and innovations.
Silvia Gaiani is a Senior Researcher at Ruralia Institute
Merja Lähdesmäki is a Senior Researcher at Ruralia Institute
Leena Viitaharju is a Project manager and Researcher at Ruralia Institute
F.W. Geels, From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems: insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory. Res. Policy, 33 (6-7) (2004), pp. 897-920. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048733304000496
J. Markard, Nat. Energy, 3 (8) (2018), p. 628. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-018-0171-7
C. Leeuwis, Communication for Rural Innovation: Rethinking Agricultural Extension, Blackwell science, Oxford (2004)
Finnish Government, the Food Research and Innovation Strategy for Finland 2021–2035
Available at: https://www.vttresearch.com/sites/default/files/2021-03/Food-research-and-innovation-research-for-Finland-2021-2035.pdf
Ruralia Institute: https://www2.helsinki.fi/en/ruralia-institute