Beyond the Pandemic: Harnessing the Digital Revolution to Set Food Systems on a Better Course

(Graphic via World Bank)

One of the most striking images of the coronavirus pandemic is the contrast between farmers dumping milk, smashing eggs, and plowing vegetables back into the soil and consumers facing empty store shelves and long lines at food distribution centers. How is it possible to have over-abundance on one hand and scarcity on the other?

This article argues it is vital to correct pervasive information asymmetries and transaction costs across a vast food system (Figure 1) to move toward a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable model. While large-scale industrial food production accompanied by just-in-time supply chains have produced many gains, the hazards of this system are increasingly visible on the horizon. The digital revolution offers the possibility of an alternative equilibrium, one where small-scale, flexible organisational and production systems flourish and nimbly navigate a changing operating environment. Small and interconnected may well be our salvation:  the hundreds of shallow-draft ships that saved the day in Dunkirk, during World War II, when troops were pinned to the coast and large personnel carriers were no longer seaworthy, come to mind.

All of us, 7.7 billion and counting, participate in the food system in one way or another. We make decisions about the food we consume, the clothes we wear and the products we use – much of which originate in agriculture. Agricultural goods are produced on 570 million farms, most of them small, run by families, and located in developing countries. Food systems are local, an essential feature in communities—but also global, linked through trade and sophisticated financial and insurance markets.

Read more at: World Bank

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