By 2050, the world is expected to have 10 billion people, and demand for food is expected to increase by up to 60 per cent. What can we do about the increasing demand for food and the growing pressure on limited natural resources, against the backdrop of climate change?

There are a range of challenges for agriculture and food systems, such as: Supplying quality food that is safe, affordable and provided in a suitable format for a population that will mainly inhabit large cities. Minimizing the environmental effects of food production, processing, distribution and consumption. And making the transition to healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets.

In this new scenario, the creation of knowledge and its transfer to the production sectors will be key. IRTA has taken the needs of the production sectors in Catalonia and the recommendations of the most relevant European and international institutions into account to develop its Strategic Plan 2020-2023, which revolves around three main strategic goals:

Goal 1

Producing healthy, quality food

Goal 2

Implementing technological solutions

Goal 3

Developing sustainable food systems

In doing so, it will play a part in the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the United Nations:

The three objectives are deployed in nine Strategic Scientific Initiatives:

1) Reducing food loss and waste


According to estimates, more than 30% of all the food produced goes to waste. The European Union is aiming to halve food loss and waste across the production and supply chain (including the food retail and food service industries and consumers) by 2030, through waste generation reduction strategies, reuse and recycling, and under the circular economy and bioeconomy paradigms.

2) Mitigating and adapting to climate change


Current food production, processing, distribution and consumption patterns greatly affect the environment, ecosystem resilience and climate stability. Climate change disrupts food systems, and is likely to do so particularly severely in regions with a Mediterranean climate over the coming years. Strategies for mitigating its impact and enabling agrifood systems to adapt to it are thus necessary, with a view to guaranteeing food availability and quality.

3) Increasing protein production


There is a growing need to increase protein production for people and animals alike. At the same time, environmental, ethical and health concerns are driving emerging demand for non-animal protein sources. It will be necessary to develop strategies for the extraction and purification of protein as an ingredient, and to formulate food and feeds with protein from new sources.

4) Boosting plant health


Climate change and globalization have resulted in new threats to crop health in the form of emerging diseases and pests, which are putting in jeopardy the quality standards, production levels and food safety and sufficiency people are increasingly coming to demand. Controlling those threats must be compatible with reducing the use of conventional pesticides and phytosanitary products, which are not only harmful to human health but also factors in biodiversity loss and the pollution of natural resources.

5) Reducing antibiotic use in animal production


Growing resistance to antibiotics and the emergence of new resistance mechanisms pose a threat to human and animal health, as they make treating infectious disease harder. They are a danger to lives and entail a major socioeconomic burden because of extremely high treatment costs and, in the specific case of animals, falls in productivity.

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6) Improving food safety


The multidisciplinary nature of IRTA’s research programmes, encompassing primary production, consumers and everything in between, allows the Institute to work on food safety in a cross-cutting, cooperative manner. Furthermore, IRTA’s knowledge of the issue, close ties with the sector and cooperation with the foremost international organizations and regulatory bodies all add up to an exceptional framework for a One Health approach to food safety.

7) Promoting microbiome research


Studying complex microbial communities’ interactions with soil and/or hosts and making practical use of the knowledge thus generated constitute a major environmental and agronomic challenge, as well as a great opportunity for IRTA, which already applies such knowledge in areas including animal welfare and genetics, nutrition and health, food production, climate change and waste management.

8) Characterizing new bioactive compounds


Research on bioactive compounds could provide fundamental knowledge about identifying and obtaining such substances and how they can influence plant, animal and human health. In the case of animals, for example, the way bioactive compounds affect the functioning of the digestive tract, permeability and inflammation could make it possible to reduce antibiotic use and develop new additives and aromas that control animals’ behaviour, appetite and storage of fat, among other things.

9) Implementing smart agrifood systems


Digital technologies such as mobile telephony, big data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and blockchain will play a key role in making farms more efficient and improving the agricultural sector’s environmental and economic sustainability. IRTA will work on a strategy to help reduce barriers to the adoption of technologies for the digitization of agriculture, livestock farming, aquaculture and the food industry.

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