Nominations wrapping up for $100,000 ag and food prizes

(Photo courtesy of Arrell Food Institute)

Nominations are closing this week for two unique global food innovation awards — and there’s every reason to believe Canadian agriculture could produce a winner.

The awards are the first Arrell Global Food Innovation Awards, from the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph. The institute was created from a $20-million donation from the Arrell family, the largest private gift ever to the university.

The institute’s goal is to transform global food systems, and elevate Canada’s place within the global food economy, building on the university’s strengths in all aspects of agri-food research and education.

In May, the institute will hold its first global food summit in Guelph and Toronto. The award winners will be announced at the summit.

Two $100,000 awards will recognize global food excellence in two areas. The first award recognizes an individual or group of researchers who have advanced the understanding of food production, processing, distribution, consumption, safety, and human nutrition. A key point is some measurement of their impact on society.

Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute, says this might include food science, crop or livestock genetics, agro-ecology, pest management, supply chain management, soil health, human nutrition, food processing, food packaging, or food safety.

The second award recognizes an individual or group of researchers who have contributed to improved nutritional health and food security, to strengthen disadvantaged communities.

Here, Fraser says fields of achievement could include household nutrition, urban poverty, Indigenous food security, traditional food systems, socioeconomic policy, poverty elimination or community development.

Arrell Food Institute graduate student tour at Summitholme dairy, near Lynden, Ontario. (Photo via Arrell Food Institute)

According to Fraser, the awards are intended to not only reward accomplishments, but also, to motivate innovation in areas of emerging global concern and interest.

I asked specifically where they see innovations being particularly necessary.  Fraser cited these potential areas among the many where the three-member international adjudication panel — which includes former Nobel Peace Prize nominee Shelia Watt-Cloutier — may see nominations:

  • Climate change mitigation and resilience. Fraser says food and ag might be one of the first parts of the economy to feel the effects of new climate realities. What great science is there that may help prepare plants and livestock to face changing climatic conditions?
  • Antimicrobial resistance: Agriculture – and in fact all sectors of society – knows it must be more careful with antimicrobial tools. What policies, procedures or products will be developed to help society adapt?
  • Inequality between Canadians. “Inequality and poverty really drive food insecurity in Canada,” says Fraser, “and some groups, such as families living in the far north, are the worse affected.” What can be done to help make sure that all Canadians in all communities have access to healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food?

The Internet is alive with stories of agricultural technologies that changed the world — among them, cotton gins, steam engines, tractors, steel plows, self-propelled combines, hydraulics, rubber tires, irrigation, fertilizer, and most lately, GMOs and biotechnology.

So what will follow? Robotics? Check. Blockchain technology? Check. Drones? Check. Gene editing? Check. Microbiome manipulation? Check. 3-D printing? Check. So much is already underway.

The food awards will offer some clues about what’s next, and to an extent, help fashion the future.

And maybe a Canadian will be leading the way.

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