Meet Our Judges: Nicole Thorpe
We are proud to announce that we have partnered with an incredible panel of experts to judge The FoodTech Challenge submissions. Our panel is comprised of local and international experts on agriculture from academia, private sector, and policy circles.
We spoke with Nicole Thorpe, Founding Director of Cultinova, to talk about her thoughts about food technology trends in the UAE and abroad.
What is your favorite memory related to food?
Having the luxury of access to a healthy diet, I associate food with quality time with family and friends. One of my fondest memories is about the time I took my children, then 8 and 5 years of age, to a raspberry field on the outskirts of town to hand-pick berries and red currants. I remember how much they enjoyed eating fresh fruit straight off the plant, whilst simultaneously gaining an appreciation of the work involved in harvesting food. When we got home, we made our very own jam. There is nothing better than a pot of jam filled with goodness and memories!
What are the essential components of building a sustainable and healthy food system, particularly in rapidly urbanizing cities?
The clue is in the title: we need to adopt a systems-thinking approach, where we understand and address food systems’ complex interactions and relationships.
With this big picture view, we can create holistic, future-proof systems which adapt to changing urban conditions. Some of the key components to building healthy food systems are:
- Openness to various business modes (including social enterprise models)
- Openness to adoption of technology / innovative cultivation methods
- Policy conducive to entrepreneurial activity and collaboration
- Youth STEM education that puts greater emphasis on technology and nutrition
- Consumer awareness of sustainable food production, consumption and waste avoidance
What exciting innovations in Internet of Things technology have promising applications in the UAE?
Given the UAE’s harsh climate and scarcity of arable land and water, I see great potential of applying IoT to the production of crops in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). Advances in technology and IoT have facilitated innovative cultivation methods in places previously deemed unsuitable for plant production, such as disused tunnels, warehouses, basements, rooftops, etc. Exciting opportunities exist in the intelligent and dynamic optimization of growth environments tailored to specific contexts, stages of plant development and growers’ goals. The collection of data related to plant development generates a holistic view of food production in CEA.
At Cultinova, we see great value in the precision control of growth parameters, specifically LED lighting and nutrient delivery in CEA. Such fine-tuning of growth factors optimizes water and fertilizer use, reduces energy consumption and improves size and quality of yield.
Surveys have shown that youth are increasingly disengaged from food and agriculture work. How do we renew youth engagement in this area?
In my opinion, IoT provides the ideal platform and tools for youth engagement. Tech-savvy millennials are likely to become more engaged with food and food production using technology. However, more emphasis needs to be placed on STEM education. Incorporating high-tech agriculture, CEA and vertical farming into curricula is essential in engaging and educating the next generation of growers.
What are books, papers, and/or articles that you’re reading about food security that you would recommend?
I recommend the following readings to learn more about food security and systems: