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Why Open Innovation is Key to Ensuring Global Food Security
© Image: / Alex E. Proimos

Why Open Innovation is Key to Ensuring Global Food Security

Open innovation continued to increase in popularity in 2012, with a number of companies making use of the practice to solve challenges and come up with unique ideas.

And that's something Jeff Bellairs, senior director of General Mills (GM) Worldwide Innovation Network, would likely find encouraging because he believes open innovation is key to ensuring global food security going into the future.

With the world’s population rising rapidly -- it’s predicted to hit nine billion by 2050 -- food production will have to increase, too. Some of the improvements will need to come from finding more efficient business processes in a number of industries, including those only indirectly related to agriculture.

As companies need to innovate to stay competitive (and because new technologies are needed to ensure we can feed the future generations), bringing new products to market quickly and cheaply is essential.

Bellairs writes that open innovation connects companies with specialized experts who can develop and implement new ideas more efficiently than someone on the in-house R&D team. This can help reduce research costs, speed up production, and give the company multiple ways to solve a single problem. (Back in the summer, Bellairs wrote an insightful piece outlining how open innovation helped bring a GM product to market in six months, rather than up to two years -- check it out here.)

To show how open innovation has led to novel food sustainability initiatives at GM, Bellairs mentions examples in the areas of agriculture and food waste.

Field to Market, The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture is a pilot program that brought GM together with two dozen farmers in Idaho to learn how the growers’ “on-farm decisions impact yields and the environment.” In order to track this data, farmers used a software tool called the Field Print Calculator, which records things like “carbon emissions, soil loss, yield efficiency, water use, and energy use.” Farmers can compare their data to local, regional and national trends, helping to identify areas where they could operate more efficiently and promoting best practices across the industry.

To help reduce food waste, GM teamed up with a non-profit and several other companies to rescue 600,000 pounds of sweet corn in Minnesota that was slated to be thrown away. Instead, the corn was used to make 465,000 meals eaten by people across 10 states.

More such efforts will have to be made in order to feed the fast-growing population. Bellairs' examples, however, show that open innovation and partnerships with outside institutions can create new operating procedures to make sure farmers are as efficient as possible and fewer people go hungry -- both in the future, and today

GM is indeed a big proponent of open innovation, having established its own ideation platform back in 2007. Users can submit solutions to problems in one of six categories (products, packaging, process, ingredients, technologies, and digital), or pitch ideas that fall outside the scope of the challenges currently posted on the platform. 

To learn more about open innovation, click here.

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