Dr Thorhildur Jetzek, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, gives her insight on how of Big Data could help us address the issue of Food security more effectively.
Currently, our soils, freshwater, oceans, forests and biodiversity are being rapidly degraded. The quality of low-cost food in the Western world is often times bad and the percentage of the population suffering from obesity and diabetes is rapidly increasing. At the same time, almost a billion people in other parts of the world suffer from hunger, and poor nutrition is responsible for around half of the deaths of children under five. Food security means that all people have sufficient means to buy nutritious and healthy food in appropriate quantities. Of course, this is not an easy task to accomplish. However, through sharing and analyzing big data from sensors used in food production, tags and documents used in the supply chain, and offers and promotions in the retail industry we can get closer to accomplish food security. Data analytics can contribute to a more sustainable and energy efficient food production. As an example, we have the Danish company DLG. They have created a solution that shows the relationship between a pig’s development (there are about 3 times as many pigs as people in Denmark) and the combination of the pig’s feed. DLG distribute their solution for free to farmers, but instead collect the data to optimize the composition of the pig feed they produce and sell. Another Danish company, Skov A/S, installs ventilators and develops monitoring solutions for farms. Skov is using sensors and machine learning algorithms to optimize use of energy in farms and to secure the animals’ welfare by keeping the optimal temperature which is automatically adjusted, based for example on the weather outside. By sharing data we can reduce information costs in the supply chain. The US based company Food Genius collects data from over 35.000 different restaurants and use these data to calculate the popularity of individual food types, for example the demand for organically produced food. Their analyzed data is shared through a platform that is used by food manufacturers and distributors, which use the information to adjust their production and to develop or brand new products. We can also use data to create information that increases awareness of the importance of food quality at the point of purchase. In a survey made by the European Consumer Organization in 2013, close to 70% of consumers in Austria, France, Poland and Sweden consider the origin of food as an important factor when buying groceries. However, this is an area where there is room for considerable improvement, as consumers need to be educated and producers need to provide more information. However, as of today, most food retailers in Denmark are aware that they have a responsibility to society and the environment, including ethical business (such as fairtrade), quality and security of food, less use of chemicals in food production and the climate and environment in general. These large companies are already analyzing data on customer behavior where they can see trends forming where enlightened customers opt for products that are produced with all of these things in mind. Through big data analysis in the retail industry, we as customers can really influence food security in the world.
Thorhildur Jetzek holds a M.Sc. in Economics from University of Iceland and a Ph.D. in Information Technology Management from Copenhagen Business School. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of IT Management, Copenhagen Business School. Previously, Thorhildur was a director of Business Development for the Nordic IT company Advania. Her current research focuses mainly on how societies and organizations can facilitate value generation through open and big data. Throughout her career, Thorhildur has strived to understand, explain and improve how public and private stakeholders use information and information technologies to generate value for society.