SOSfood Launches: A Project to Enhance the Sustainability of the Food System through Data Importance and Artificial Intelligence

The added value of data will be a key factor in the new international research project funded by the 'Horizon Europe' program, with which the EU strengthens its strategy to address the crisis in the agri-food sector. Seventeen entities across the continent are participating, including CiTIUS from the University of Santiago de Compostela, contributing expertise in information analysis using Artificial Intelligence techniques.

According to estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, "by 2050, it will be necessary to produce 60% more food to feed a global population of 9.3 billion people" […]. Achieving this with traditional agriculture would impose a heavy burden on our natural resources. Thus, we have no choice but to embark on a more ecological revolution" […]. The words of José Graziano Da Silva, FAO Director from 2011 to 2019, resurface amid recent farmer protests across Europe.

These protests, some even calling for the repeal of Agenda 2030, highlight the complexity of this phenomenon, reflecting the concerns and challenges facing the agricultural sector. In this social context, a new European research project kicks off today, funded by the prestigious 'Horizon Europe' Framework Program from the Commission: SOSfood. This consortium, led by the University of Vigo and involving 17 entities across the continent, prominently features the participation of CiTIUS (Singular Center of Research in Intelligent Technologies from USC), bringing together various stakeholders to contribute to the sustainability of the food system (agriculture, fishing, and livestock) within the Common Space.

The project arises from collaboration between the University of Santiago, the digital innovation hub Datalife, and the University of Vigo, which coordinates the project through the Agricultural and Food Research Group led by Professor Jesús Simal Gándara. The researcher, also affiliated with CISPAC (an interuniversity center involving USC, UDC, and UVigo), emphasized today the relevance of SOSfood in the current context: "Farmer protests against Agenda 2030 underscore the importance of involving all stakeholders, including farmers themselves, in the development and implementation of policies related to agriculture and the environment." Therefore, adds the proposal's lead, "it is crucial to find a balance between the need to protect the environment and promote sustainable agricultural practices while supporting and ensuring the profitability of agricultural, livestock, and fishing activities."

Based on this premise, SOSFood will focus its efforts on harnessing the potential of data exploitation technologies and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide an accurate and comprehensive picture of the European food system, promoting the development of predictive tools. The data processing and information processing using AI techniques will be the responsibility of the CiTIUS team, bringing their extensive experience in the field under the direction of researcher Paulo Félix Lamas. The ultimate goal is to enable all stakeholders in the food chain to make well-informed decisions, with a focus on involving every link in the value chain: production, transformation, distribution, sale, consumption, and waste management.

Kick-off Meeting at CiTIUS

Today, representatives from the member institutions gathered in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, for the project's launch meeting. The meeting took place at the CiTIUS facilities, a prominent partner in the consortium. Thus began SOSfood, an ambitious initiative aiming to use artificial intelligence and data exploitation to provide a comprehensive view of the continent's food system.

The new proposal constitutes an unprecedented effort by the EU to address the growing environmental emergency and transform the food value chain in Europe, valued by the Commission as the best project among all presented.

The central goal of SOSfood is to use AI technology and data exploitation to promote better-informed decision-making based on new scientific evidence; decisions that ultimately transform the food chain towards sustainability and efficiency. The initiative recognizes the urgent need to intervene in the food system to make it more productive, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient, given the current environmental emergency. It aims to provide relevant information to all stakeholders, including consumers, to facilitate decision-making about food products in the market.

The project will conduct a multidisciplinary analysis of the food system, involving European experts in health, nutrition, economics, environment, and health. The project's results are directed at all actors in the value chain, particularly the end consumer, along with a set of evidence-based recommendations aimed at guiding future policies of the European Union.

In addition to the two Galician universities involved, the consortium includes the participation of 15 other partners, including universities, digital innovation hubs, companies, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies from across Europe. SOSfood stands as a pioneering project seeking to bring together diverse stakeholders for informed decision-making to drive productivity, inclusivity, sustainability, and resilience in the European food chain.

Project Validation

SOSFood will carry out three case studies in three different European scenarios: Galicia (representing a regional scope); Athens (a metropolitan scope); and Lithuania (a national scope), with the aim of validating the feasibility and representativeness of the analysis methods and algorithms developed. This will be the culmination of an initiative presented as a significant milestone in the search for healthy and fairly priced solutions to global food challenges, promoting collaboration across sectors and using technology to address the complexity of the European food system.