Food and what we consume have shaped human history, culture, diversity, and aesthetics. It is necessary for our very survival. It brings families together. It defines cultures. In recognition of the influence food has on all of our lives, in 1979, on October 16, people in over 150 countries started a movement to celebrate World Food Day—to raise awareness of food security issues and strengthen solidarity in the fight against hunger.
This year, problems with global warming and the war in Ukraine have made it hard to keep supply chains safe, and food prices have gone up at a rate that has never been seen before (World Bank, 2022). We can see it through searches too: in the Middle East and in African countries, people are particularly worried about the effects of the food crisis. In 2022, the search interest for terms in the food vertical like “cooking oil” (+122%) and “maize flour” (+100%) grew in Kenya, and “oil prices” (+162%) in South Africa. While Egyptians were concerned about the prices of tomatoes (+125%), milk (+82%), and coffee (+82%), users in the United Arab Emirates, hosting a large number of expats, searched for prices on cooking oil, onions, and sugar in their home country.
The range of food-related concerns, addressed by the tech community—Google included—spans today from improvements across the whole agroecosystem to choosing more sustainable dishes by consumers.
In July 2022, we commissioned research that studies how food companies can feed over 7 billion people while managing the uncertainty and complexity of the modern world. It is clear that food and agriculture companies need solutions throughout the whole farm-to-table journey to help them make food production more efficient; adapt to shifting trends in consumer diets and how/where they buy their food; build flexibility and resilience in an increasingly unpredictable world of weather events, trade restrictions, even wars; and do all of this while reducing the environmental impact across the agri-food value chains.
The food and agricultural companies that succeed are the ones that improve their business predictions and decision-making by connecting their internal data with external trend data.
As Gulf countries are disproportionately impacted by the adverse effects of climate change, Google started supporting the Saudi government to help them address environmental, water and agricultural challenges resulting from climate change and using artificial intelligence.
Embracing technological opportunities, startups from Africa, such as OKO, provide insurance to smallholder farmers, helping them to become more resilient in the face of weather vagaries, providing access to loans, and even creating jobs for youngsters. Google invested in this and other start-ups in the region, working toward reaching the Sustainable Goals of the UN.
Moreover, earlier this week, Google Cloud announced its collaboration with Kenyan Twiga Foods, an e-commerce platform that connects farmers directly with vendors to bring high-quality, locally harvested fresh produce to people every day—increasing accessibility to food items in Kenya. With the recently announced plan to set up new Google Cloud regions in South Africa, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, we hope to help more businesses find ways to use technology in food production in the future.
So, whether you are an individual in the UAE, a small farmer in Uganda, or a large government institution in Saudi Arabia, it is your choice and opportunity to make a proportional impact today!
Dr. Alistair Mokoena is Google’s South Africa Country Director