Food and what we consume has shaped human history, culture, diversity, and aesthetics. It is necessary for our very survival, brings families together and defines cultures. In recognition of the influence food has in our lives, on October 16, 1979, people drawn from 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, due to the continuous global warming issues and the war in Ukraine, security of supply chains has been put under threat and the prices on food commodities have risen at an unprecedented rate (World Bank, 2022). We can see it through Search too: in the Middle East and in African countries people are particularly worried about the effects of the food crisis. In Kenya, search interest for terms in the food vertical like “cooking oil” rose by 122 percent, “maize flour” (+100 percent) and “oil prices” reported a 162 percent rise in South Africa . While Egyptians were concerned about prices of tomatoes that reported a 125 percent hike, milk (82 percent) coffee(82 percent), users in the United Arab Emirates, hosting a large number of expats , searched for prices on cooking oil, onions and sugar in their home countries.
The range of food-related concerns, addressed by the tech community – Google included – spans today from improvements across the whole agro-ecosystem to choosing more sustainable dishes by consumers.
In July 2022, Google commissioned research that studies how food companies can feed over 7 billion people while managing uncertainty and complexity of the modern world. 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 in 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 through 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, start-ups 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. Earlier, this week Google Cloud announced its collaboration with Kenya’s Twiga Foods, an e-commerce platform which 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 intent to establish new Google Cloud regions in South Africa, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, we hope to help more businesses build use cases for technology in food production in the future.
So, whether you are an individual in UAE, a small farmer in Uganda or a large government institution in Saudi, it is your choice and opportunity to make a proportional impact – today!
Agnes Gathaiya is the Country Director Kenya and Eastern Africa, Google