Agribusiness in the digital age: new skills for the fourth revolution in agriculture

From sustainability to new professional figures  

Food has always played a fundamental role in maintaining the cultural heritage of a people and in enhancing the value of a territory’s products. It evokes the historical and economic profile of a society and is an essential structural feature of every country. 

Sharing food is universally recognised as one of the fundamental ways in which interpersonal relationships can be established and maintained. The term ‘companion’ comes from the Latin cum-pani, meaning to share bread with, because, through communal eating, culture and values were transmitted. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the habits of Italians a great deal and food has also been involved in these transformations, evolving into a more conscious and sustainable approach. 

Coop Report 2021 – Nomisma 

According to the “Rapporto Coop 2021 – Economia, Consumi e stili di vita degli italiani di oggi e di domani” (“Coop Report 2021 – Economy, Consumption and Lifestyles of Italians of Today and Tomorrow”), drawn up by the Ancc-Coop Studies Office – National Association of Consumer Cooperatives – with the scientific collaboration of Nomisma, as a result of the pandemic 1 Italian in 2 has changed his or her eating habits, rediscovering a healthier diet and a marked attention to product quality.  88% declare themselves to be sensitive to the concept of sustainability, with a careful eye on environmentally friendly production methods, the origin of products and the supply chain.   83% are willing to spend more to buy products with certified quality and are attentive to reading the label and to indications on the origin and provenance of products.   

In different eras, job and/or assignment changes and transitions from company to company happened with ease because economies were experiencing positive economic times.  The pandemic crisis has subverted this paradigm and to quote McKinsey: ‘Great friction’ or ‘Great attraction’? The choice is yours.” 

We wanted to discuss this issue with Professor Diana Lenzi, Professor at Rome Business School for the Master in Food and Beverage Management and the Online Master in Agribusiness Management and President of CEJA, the Organisation of Young European Farmers, which brings together 33 agricultural associations and two million EU producers, who said:

“We have all experienced the lockdown as a shock in our way of life. We have changed our habits and certainly the way we consume food. We have reconnected with our roots: cooking during the quarantine has taken on a new meaning, becoming a way of bringing the family together, because the table has always been a meeting place for affectivity. We have also rediscovered the world of farmers, one of the very few sectors that has never stopped, allowing us not to suffer from food shortages in Italy and Europe. Now, however, we must unite against food wastage because food must be deeply respected. “

Food waste and world hunger

Food waste is a very topical issue, from the point of view of environmental, economic and social sustainability. Around a third of the food produced in the world is not consumed. This phenomenon affects different levels of the food chain at three main stages: production, distribution, consumption and storage. 

The problem is therefore not a lack of food, but rather the lack of access to it, especially for developing countries. From this point of view, the world is experiencing the profound paradox of food scarcity in its abundance, as Save the Children points out.

The persistence of the phenomenon of world hunger is undoubtedly one of the most important symptoms of the need for a radical change in the global productive and economic system. Moreover, it should not be underestimated that the number of those suffering from ‘overnutrition’ is increasing in developed countries. Obesity and overweight are on the rise in all age groups, particularly among young people and adolescents, who will be the adults of tomorrow.

Plant-based food can be a solution to help have a different environmental impact. However, it must be understood that this impact does not stop with primary production alone, but continues with industrial processing. So for an overall assessment you need to evaluate the impact on the finished product. I believe, however, that there is no ‘solution’, but rather the search for a new balance, a greater awareness of the issue. For example, Italy is the first country in the European Union for the number of recognised agri-food products: 279 PDOs and PGIs and 526 certified wines.  We must respect our excellences that represent Made in Italy, a driving force of our economy, one of the strong points of which is certainly food and wine”.

The new generations and agribusiness 

The introduction of food education in schools could be the missing link between the younger generations and respect for the environment. A full awareness of the food they consume, understanding its effects on their bodies and learning to recognise its quality, would help young people to live in harmony

“We need to bring our young people into discussions for environmental sustainability, not have a rigidly didactic attitude. Food education in schools would be very useful, but the study should not be understood dogmatically. If, on the contrary, we were to do storytelling, a tool that young people like very much, and explain the history of every single ingredient in a dish, we would take them on a very fascinating journey and give them back a world that they have completely lost track of. We would thus recreate a link between producer and consumer that would automatically lead to conscious consumption in the future.”

New professional opportunities in agribusiness

In Europe in 2016 it was estimated that only 11% of farms are run by someone under 40 and more than 65% by someone over 65. As a result, in the next 10 years, 65% of farmers will be ready to retire. The generational change in agriculture is therefore one of the greatest needs of the sector and has always been considered a priority on the Brussels political agenda.

Farming today is no longer just about cultivating a piece of land.  Agricultural work follows technological developments and finds innovations that make even the most traditional forms of production more sustainable. Today, running a farm requires not only good agronomic skills but also an entrepreneurial mindset.

We are currently facing a fourth major revolution in the world of agriculture, because digital technology is changing the world of agriculture. Technology allows us to mechanise many operations, to have information that reduces environmental impact because it allows us to use fewer plant protection products or, when necessary, to use them more sparingly. All this requires many new skills: we need competences in digital, business administration, marketing, communication and food law. But above all, we need to create an attraction for a sector that doesn’t know how to tell its story, but which can offer important employment opportunities.

Agribusiness is therefore a valuable opportunity to promote the products and traditions that make Italy unique and to celebrate one of Italy’s great treasures: food and wine, which promotes a healthy eating model based on the Mediterranean diet, which UNESCO declared an intangible heritage of humanity in 2010. 

DIANA LENZI 

Born and raised in Rome, Diana Lenzi completed her classical studies and a degree in Political Science before dedicating herself to her true passion, professional cooking, graduating from the Gambero Rosso professional schools. After a few years of total immersion in the kitchens of some of Rome’s most important restaurants, in 2008 she was asked to manage the family winery, Fattoria di Petroio.  She then moved to the farm in Siena, to learn on site and directly what it means to make quality agriculture and wine and how to give new entrepreneurial energy to the family business.  From that day on, with his hands in the cellar and his head in the office, he dedicated all his energies to consolidating the traditional, territorial and prestigious style of his wines and to making his company economically solid and sustainable, increasing exports and giving it greater visibility. She promotes the transition to organic and sustainable agriculture. She has always been active in agricultural associations, becoming first vice-president of ANGA, the young people of Confagricoltura, and then president of Ceja, the European Council of Young Farmers. 

 

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