The use of digital technologies in the agri-food sector is growing worldwide, including in the urban and regional food systems. Examples of these applications exist on different scales and different levels of society. From the use of robots to make EU agriculture more sustainable to local projects, such as the FoodE Vertical Farm in Bologna. But how exactly do these applications change the way we produce and consume food within local food systems?
A recent paper has reviewed the literature on how digital technologies support urban and regional agro-food purchasing and consumption, as well as their characteristics. It was written by Prof. Antonella Samoggia, Francesca Monticone and Prof. Aldo Bertazzoli – researchers from the Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Technologies at the University of Bologna – in the context of the FoodE project. 57 studies were included in the final qualitative analysis to understand in particular:
- 1. How digital technologies reinforce the connection between urban and regional food systems.
- 2. How digital technologies change food shopping experiences for consumers and food selling for producers and retailers.
- 3. The characteristics of mobile phone Apps, and the differences of an App in comparison to other digital technologies.
The analysis supports the idea that digital technologies could strengthen the urban-regional links, as proclaimed by international agro-food institutions. Moreover, apps, especially those aimed at selling and buying agro-food products, emerged as the most popular digital technology in this research. The creation of an online community has proven crucial in enhancing networking among consumers and their interaction with farmers. Online interactions may create a sense of community through sharing food choices, for example. Moreover, digital technologies have made it easier for consumers to find local food producers and restaurants. A more sustainable food system, with short supply chains and more locally produced food, is just one click away.
The researchers also paid attention to the possible downsides of evolving digital technologies in urban and regional food systems. If not carefully implemented, unequal access to these digital technologies could cause long-term disparities, posing possible threats to the economic development of rural areas worldwide. For this reason, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) committed to a considerable effort in making basic ICT tools accessible for rural communities.
In general, digital technologies, and specifically apps, can be valuable instruments to strengthen the relations between various actors in the agri-food chain, the researchers conclude. The direct interactions between food producers and consumers may truly change the way we experience food shopping from both the perspective of food producers as well as consumers!
For more information, read the full paper here.
Innovative Digital Technologies for Purchasing and Consumption in Urban and Regional Agro-Food Systems: A Systematic Review by Antonella Samoggia, Francesca Monticone, and Aldo Bertazzoli, University of Bologna, Foods 2021, 10(2), 208; https://doi.org/10.3390/foods10020208