Meet Our Judges: Stuart Oda
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 Stuart Oda, Co-Founder and CEO of Alesca Life, to talk about his thoughts about food technology trends in the UAE and abroad.
What is your favorite memory related to food?
All my favorite food memories are related to family and travel. My most recent incredibly food experience was eating a fresh fig for the first time in Venice, Italy with my wife. All of the figs I had eaten until then were dried or preserved, and I remember being amazed by the vibrant color and flavor of the fresh fruit.
What makes you excited about food technology?
I’m excited that food technology has the potential to improve environmental, economic, and social outcomes across the world. Not only will the development and maturity of food tech make the agricultural industry more sustainable, but it also has the opportunity to improve farm productivity and profitability and modernize dated notions about what it means to produce food. One of the most valuable tool for future farmers will undoubtedly be a smartphone.
In your opinion, what key technologies have promising applications for UAE food security challenges?
Controlled environment agriculture and precision farming technology both hold incredible promise for application in the UAE to address challenges related to food and nutritional security. In terms of scalability, other promising technologies include products and processes to extend food shelf life and services to upcycle food waste.
Surveys have shown that youth are increasingly disengaged from food and agriculture work. How do we renew youth engagement in this area?
In order to inspire the youth and our next generation of food producers and agritech engineers, Alesca Life has launched several initiatives, the most successful (and fun) of which has been our urban indoor farming experiential tours. We’ve welcomed thousands of participants to learn about the basics of indoor farming and plant seeds, transplant saplings, and harvest vegetables just like our professional grow operators. By showcasing how technologically advanced and beautiful farming can be and giving each participant the opportunity to plant a seed and build a relationship with the food that they eat, we’ve been able to engage and educate the youth and even convert picky eaters into vegetable lovers. One of the only compliments that I can remember in the 6 years since founding Alesca Life was during one of these experiential tours. After completing the program with friends and classmates, one of the students said to my team, “When I grow up, I want to be an urban farmer.”
What are books, papers, and/or articles that you’re reading about food security that you would recommend?
Food security is an incredibly multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted topic, and I try to stay up-to-date on the latest tech and trends by engaging frequently with various civil society, government, and non-governmental organizations. It’s incredible to learn about the simple, elegant, and hyper affordable initiatives being deployed across emerging market countries as well as the super high tech solutions being launched in more developed geographies. There are a lot of opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas, and it’s always exciting to think about a future in which products, services, and processes to improve the agricultural industry can be shared and implemented faster, better, and cheaper.