An interview with the team of speakers

Prof. Dr. Andrea Büttner - Spokesperson of the Alliance and Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV

Prof. Dr. Stefan Schillberg - Deputy Spokesperson of the Lead Market Food Industry and Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME

Prof. Dr. Jens-Peter Majschak - Deputy Spokesman of the Lead Market Food Industry and Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV Dresden

Prof. Dr. Jörg Dörr - Deputy Speaker of the Lead Market Food Industry and member of the extended institute management Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE


The food industry is currently facing huge challenges. What are they?

A. Büttner:

Security of supply, as we know it from the last few decades here in Europe, in Germany, and certainly like to take it for granted, is increasingly facing major challenges. The causes are manifold - as are the associated challenges for the food industry. Climate change and associated weather extremes as well as changes in local (micro)climates, but also new and intensifying conflicts and associated socio-political challenges such as migration or a shortage of skilled workers are driving an increasingly urgent need for transformation. The threat of raw material shortages, disruptive supply chains, price pressure and cost explosions are just some of the challenges that will ultimately affect the resilience of the entire value chain in the food industry.


What role does the Food Industry Alliance play here?

S. Schillberg:

Our 14 member institutes pool expertise along the entire value chain of the agricultural and food industry and offer solutions for industrial customers. From digital developments for agriculture to new methods in raw material analysis and innovations in food production.


What added value does the alliance offer a manufacturer/supplier in the food industry?

J.-P. Majschak:

As part of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Alliance for the Food Industry offers not only the expertise of the member institutes but also an extensive network of around 70 other Fraunhofer Institutes. This means that expertise from almost all areas of technology can be incorporated into the solution of complex challenges in the industry.


Which topics will play a special role in view of the current challenges?

Jörg Dörr:

The challenges for value chains in the area of resilience on the one hand, but also the fulfillment of verification obligations on the other, pose increasing challenges for the companies involved. Digital tools such as data rooms for seamless and efficient data exchange, digital twins of products and even (agricultural) businesses will be key technologies in the future. The Alliance is jointly researching the necessary concepts and technologies in pioneering projects.


How can the value chain become more resilient?

A. Büttner:

The food industry system is very complex, with complex structures and dependencies. In order to increase resilience, we have to do one thing above all: think about what we might have to adapt to, which situations, which scenarios. Based on these, we need to think about what solutions are needed in each case, who can contribute them today, tomorrow and in the future, and how a certain degree of coordination can be achieved. Only together can the individual building blocks and process steps for each use case be considered and analyzed individually and still be considered as a whole. And this is the only way to increase resilience in the long term. In fact, it is about securing resilient and sovereign supply - at the level of the individual, communities, regions, supra-regional structures - however these may present themselves geopolitically in the future.


Which developments in the field of nutrition currently have the greatest potential?

S. Schillberg:

Potential can be found throughout the entire value chain. However, it is greatest where political, societal, economic and social requirements demand innovations in order to continue to provide high-quality and affordable food safely in the future. Examples include bio-based pesticides to meet the requirements of the EU Green Deal and new cultivation concepts to protect the climate and conserve resources.


With its focus on agriculture and the food industry, the alliance touches on almost all of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. What are they?

J.-P-. Majschak:

With our research and development, we are contributing to a number of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. Our focus on food, nutrition and health and sustainable agriculture, for example, addresses the SDGs "Zero hunger", "Good health and well-being", "Sustainable consumption and production", "No poverty", "Climate action", "Life below water" and "Life on land".


What contribution can AI make to food security?

J. Dörr:

AI is already making a significant contribution in the value chain. On the one hand, this includes supporting those involved, e.g. in the form of decision support (when should which crop protection products be used to produce the raw materials?) On the other hand, increasing the degree of automation. This is particularly important in the current shortage of skilled labor and has a direct impact on the resilience of our food production (as we have experienced in times of Corona). It is to be expected that the contribution of AI will become even more important in the future.