Home / Technology Policy & Ethics / July 2018 / The Role of Education and Information Technology for a Fair and Sustainable Development

The Role of Education and Information Technology for a Fair and Sustainable Development

By Marco Pellegrini and Massimo Mozzon

July 2018

Marco Pellegrini (corresponding author): marcopellegrini75@yahoo.it
Massimo Mozzon: m.mozzon@staff.univpm.it

The world’s population peaked to 7.6 billion by mid-2017, approximately adding a billion inhabitants since 2005. The Population Division at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) United Nations (UN), predicts that global population will increase by 1.1% each year reaching 11.2 billion by 2100 [1]. Sixty per cent of the world’s people live in Asia and 17% in Africa, while the remaining 23% live across Europe, America and Oceania. China and India are the two most populous countries of the world comprising 19% and 18% of global total, respectively. Based on UN/DESA projected growth of global population until 2100, it is estimated that Asia and Africa will still remain the two most populous regions of the world, comprising about 83% of global population. Therefore, the majority population growth is expected to take place in developing and least developed countries (LDCs) [2].

Population is at the centre of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [1]. Two of the seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs) aim at ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition for all, and promoting sustainable industrialization (SDG 2 and 9).

Agriculture will have to face multiple challenges such as producing more food for a growing population with a smaller rural labour force, contribute to overall development in agriculture-dependent developing countries, adopt more efficient and sustainable production methods and adapt to climate change [3]. Projections from UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that feeding 9.8 billion people in 2050 would require raising overall food production by 70% and in developing countries production would need to almost double. Ending hunger and food insecurity, therefore, will require continued and focused efforts, especially in Asia and Africa [4]. However, there is general consensus that agriculture alone will not be sufficient to meet food-related SDGs. For economic growth to be sustainable in the long-run, investments in agriculture have to be accompanied by investments and government spending in infrastructure, institutions and ultimately in the manufacturing and service sectors [3]. The question that now arises is: in which areas do we need to invest for achieving such an ambitious goal? In this work we focus on education and information and communication technologies (ICTs) for food processing and distribution industry.

First, education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and lays a foundation for sustainable economic growth [5]; nevertheless, many children in LDCs still lack access to quality education. This knowledge gap is increased by their limited or no access to ICTs, essential in the developing world because information is seen as one of the major drivers of economic and social development and ICT makes access to information on an unprecedented scale. Despite the progress made, the digital divide still remains between and within countries, in particular between urban, rural and underserved areas [6,7].

Secondly, as recognized by World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-17) convened in October 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, ICTs play a significant role in pivotal areas such as agriculture, education and health, particularly in LDCs. However, innovative opportunities provided by ICTs should be accompanied by ambitious decision-making and measures aimed at reducing poverty and inequalities [6]. ICTs form the backbone of digital economy and have enormous potential to fast forward progress on the SDGs and improve people’s lives in fundamental ways [8]. In particular, to feed a growing population and improve food security and traceability at the same time, agri-food sector is increasingly knowledge-intensive [9]. As an example, ICTs can help delivering more efficient and reliable data to comply with international traceability standards [10].

Many definitions such as e-agriculture [10], m-farming [11] and smart farming [12] have been proposed for the use of ICTs in agriculture in its broadest sense. Generally speaking, ICTs for agri-food sector may include devices, networks, services and applications. These can range from cutting edge sensors and technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data analytics, to consolidated technologies such as radio, fixed and mobile phone services and satellites.

Recent data from International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN specialized agency for ICTs, show that ICT development is currently driven by the spread of mobile-broadband services. Mobile broadband penetration has indeed largely outpaced that of fixed broadband, while average mobile-broadband prices have halved since 2013. In particular, the steepest decrease occurred in LDCs, where mobile-broadband prices fell from 32.4 to 14.1% of gross national income (GNI) per capita [13]. ITU data also show that 70% of the world’s youth (ages 15-24) are online. These factors have resulted in about half of the world’s population getting online. Internet bandwidth grew worldwide by 32% in 2015–2016 and Africa experienced the highest increase during this period (72%). Even though developing countries are home to 83% of the global population, they currently generate only 39% of the world’s telecommunication revenues.

Reported trends mean that demand for food, education and ICTs would continue to grow. Therefore, public investment, private investment, as well as public-private partnerships need to be strengthened, especially in the developing world, for the expansion of broadband infrastructure, ICT services and applications in order to bridge the digital divide and foster an inclusive and sustainable economic growth. At the same time educational, training and skill development policies need to be enhanced by promoting technology and knowledge transfer between developed and developing countries as well as among developing countries.

The concept of education for sustainable development (ESD) was born from the need for education to address the growing environmental challenges facing the planet [14]. Key themes in ESD are biodiversity, sustainable production and consumption, global justice, disaster risk reduction, poverty reduction, and last but not least, climate change, the environmental challenge of this generation. Education is strongly related to SDG targets and in particular to Goal 13 for which education is key to mass understanding of the impact of climate change and to adaptation and mitigation, particularly at the local level.

As stated by UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), all institutions ranging from preschool to tertiary education should consider it their responsibility to foster the development of key cross-cutting competencies related to sustainability. The development of these competencies is an essential contribution to efforts to achieve the SDGs. As an example, the Eco-Schools programme [15], an international initiative established in 1994 by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) in Europe, is currently operational in over 51000 schools in sixty-seven countries worldwide. Eco-Schools programme aims at promoting environmental awareness, community involvement and global citizenship. In order to scale-up ESD actions at all levels and in all areas of education, training and learning, an international network of national operators promoting and spreading the Eco-Schools programme within their countries has been established. The programme has achieved significant impacts [14] providing schools a flexible approach for implementing environmental management systems and environmental learning, while encouraging students to participate through positive actions.

Since the SDGs can only be achieved with involvement of the private sector working alongside Governments and the UN system [16], the interest stimulated by the 2030 Agenda provides many collaboration and business opportunities for both telecommunications and food industries. In developing as well as in developed countries, advanced technologies and tools are indeed needed to monitor food and perishable goods during processing, storage and transportation. As an example, by September 2018 each and every domestic or foreign food facility working in the U.S. must comply with the requirements established by the Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food and mandated by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) [17]. Such rule requires food facilities to have a food safety plan in place that includes an analysis of hazards and risk-based preventive controls to minimize or prevent the identified hazards; the rule also focuses on record keeping and verification of preventative controls.

Continuous monitoring of environmental parameters is a fundamental preventative control and it can be accomplished by wireless technologies for IoT. A wide range of industrial IoT applications have been developed in recent years by leveraging the growing ubiquity of radio-frequency identification (RFID), and wireless, mobile, and sensor devices [18]. However, IoT is a very complicated heterogeneous network platform so future efforts are needed to address research challenges such as technology, standardization, security and privacy.

We believe that future investments in food safety should be directed towards service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based IoT solutions as the principles of service-orientation are independent of any vendor, product or communication technology. Such an approach could be affordable also for emerging economies, by using existing telecommunications infrastructures and thus fostering their growth and updating.

1. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables, Working paper ESA/P/WP/248,” Internet: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Publications/Files/WPP2017_KeyFindings.pdf [Nov. 23, 2017].
2. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Development Policy & Analysis Division, “Least Developed Countries (LDCS),” Internet: https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/least-developed-country-category.html [Nov. 23, 2017].
3. United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, “Outcome of the High-Level Expert Forum on How to Feed the World in 2050,” Internet: http://www.fao.org/3/a-k6631e.pdf, Nov. 2009 [Nov. 23, 2017].
4. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, “Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform,” Internet: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org [Nov. 23, 2017].
5. B. Burns, A. Mingat and R. Rakotomalala, Achieving universal primary education by 2015: a chance for every child. Washington DC (USA): World Bank, 2003.
6. International Telecommunication Union, “Buenos Aires Declaration of World Telecommunication Development Conference 2017 (WTDC-17),” Internet: http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Conferences/WTDC/WTDC17/Pages/default.aspx [Nov. 23, 2017].
7. Close the Gap, “The role of ICT in the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” Internet: http://close-the-gap.org/the-role-of-ict-in-the-un-sustainable-development-goals [Nov. 23, 2017].
8. International Telecommunication Union, “ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG,” Internet: http://www.itu.int/ICT4SDG [Nov. 23, 2017].
9. International Telecommunication Union, “Goal 2. Hunger & food security,” Internet: http://www.itu.int/en/sustainable-world/Pages/goal2.aspx [Nov. 23, 2017].
10. United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization and International Telecommunication Union, “E-Agriculture Strategy Guide. A summary,” Internet: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6909e.pdf [Nov. 23, 2017].
11. International Telecommunication Union, “Innovating with Fatoumata: How m-farming can feed the next 2.4 billion people,” Internet: http://itu150.org/story/february [Nov. 23, 2017].
12. S. Wolfert, L. Ge, C. Verdouw and M.-J. Bogaardt, “Big Data in Smart Farming – A review,” Agricultural Systems, vol. 153, pp. 69–80, 2017.
13. International Telecommunication Union, “ICT Facts and Figures 2017,” Internet: http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2017.pdf [Nov. 23, 2017].
14. United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, “Issues and trends in Education for Sustainable Development,” Internet: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002614/261445e.pdf [Jul. 6, 2018].
15. Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), “Eco Schools,” Internet: http://www.ecoschools.global [Jul. 6, 2018].
16. United Nations, Global Compact Office and KPMG International, “SDG Industry Matrix – Food, Beverage and Consumer Goods,” Feb. 2016, Internet: https://www.unglobalcompact.org/docs/issues_doc/development/SDGMatrix-ConsumerGoods.pdf [Dec. 5, 2017].
17. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, “Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food,” Internet: https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/ucm334115.htm [Dec. 13, 2017].
18. L. D. Xu, W. He and S. Li, “Internet of Things in Industries: A Survey,” IEEE Trans. on Industrial Informatics, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 2233-2243, Nov. 2014.

Marco Pellegrini (M’14) received his M.Sc. in Telecommunications Engineering from University of Florence, Italy, in 2001, and his Ph.D. in Methods and Technologies for Environmental Monitoring from University of Basilicata, Italy, in 2006. Since 2007, he has been with Lif srl, Italy, where he currently serves as Senior ICT Engineer. Since 2011, he also served as Lecturer in Telecommunications at the Information Engineering Department, Università Politecnica delle Marche, Italy. He is adjunct Professor of Physics (at Department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences) and Remote Sensing (at Department of Life and Environmental Sciences), both at Università Politecnica delle Marche. His current research interests include wireless sensor networks and embedded systems development.

Massimo Mozzon got his M.Sc. in Food Science and Technology from University of Udine in 1992 and his Ph.D. in Nutrition Physiology from Università Politecnica delle Marche in 1999. In the same year he won an open competition for a position of Researcher (Scientific Sector AGR/15, Food Science and Technology) at the Department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences – Università Politecnica delle Marche and eventually, in 2011, he got his current position (Associate Professor) at the same Dept. Research activities of Massimo Mozzon are mainly focused on relationships between technology and chemical aspects of food quality, resulting in more than 70 scientific publications (48 journal papers, 3 book chapters, 1 book) and conference proceedings.

Dr. Mohammad Saud Khan is a Lecturer in the area of Strategic Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Before taking up this role, he was positioned as a Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern Denmark. Having a background in Mechatronics (Robotics & Automation) Engineering, he worked as a field engineer in the oil and gas industry with Schlumberger Oilfield Services in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and United Kingdom. In addition to his involvement in several consulting assignments, his corporate experience includes a project on “Open Innovation” with Agfa Gevaert, Belgium.

Saud’s research work has largely been focused on investigating entrepreneurial teams within high-tech business incubators. His work has been presented and published at renowned international conferences and management journals.

He is a frequent reviewer for prestigious academic conferences and journals such as Academy of Management Annual Meeting, European Academy of Management, Management Decision, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research, Journal of Managerial Psychology and Creativity and Innovation Management.

Research Interests

  • Entrepreneurship (especially High-Tech Entrepreneurship).
  • Innovation Management (especially Implications of 3D printing and Big Data).
  • Uncertainty management with respect to people, organization and technology