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New EU project wants to develop a fair, inclusive data economy for Europe’s food systems

Published on
November 22, 2022

Launched in Lisbon on September 29th, Data4Food2030 is equipped with 10 million euros of funding, to discover the value of the data economy in European food systems. The project includes a network of 24 partners from 12 different countries across Europe, led by the Dutch Wageningen Research. The project aims to improve the data economy for food systems by expanding its definition, mapping its development, reiterating the need for a robust monitoring system, and introducing business and governance models stemming from a dialogue with stakeholders.

Big data is a very powerful tool that we have at our disposal, but in order to be put to effective use for food systems, big data has to be captured, analyzed and acted upon. Yet, stakeholders pose a significant question: Can data help us make European food systems more sustainable in social and environmental terms? A new EU project Data4Food2030 responds that yes, it can, if we govern it well and build trust amongst all stakeholders, including marginalized groups whose access to data is limited because of gender, remote/rural geographical location or ethnic background.

Wielding technology to meet our sustainability needs is made easier every day. We can install sensors on everything on the farm and at each step in a food value chain, until it reaches the fork - in other words, acquiring large amounts of data has never been easier. Substantial funding is being directed towards technical science and big data, but more attention needs to be paid to how these affect the society at large, and if those who share their data trust how it is used.

Data-driven innovations today reshape the way we produce, consume, and share food. In doing so, they are transforming our economy and society, and these changes are fast and profound.

“While these changes are promising, the digital transformation of food systems nevertheless entered a twilight zone, which is where we find ourselves today,” said Dr. George Beers, project coordinator at Data4Food2030 at Wageningen Research. “This twilight zone is where food systems, supported by data-driven innovations and data platforms, are expected to transform into a food data economy grounded in data spaces. But whether this happens and how fast, will depend on how effectively social sciences will work alongside technology, because they are closely intertwined.”

There are issues of trust, data ownership, and fear that data can be misused to create monopolistic positions. So far funding has been directed towards advancing and adopting technologies, however the challenge lies not as much in the technology, but rather in the social context. Users may not understand how data is handled and how to trust it. Do we know how to monitor the data economy, who should be doing that and how to organise its governance?