National Technology Clusters have been promoted in order to generate platforms for permanent dialogue between the research system, businesses and local organisations. Today, they represent an important intermediate infrastructure tasked with fostering public-private research cooperation on innovation and technological development, reconstructing national policies in sectors of strategic interest and promoting regional intelligent specialisation. With this in mind, they have been entrusted with the mission of generating shared technological development roadmaps that outline prospective technological scenarios and opportunities for Italian industry.
The roadmap for the National Agri-food Technology Cluster is the result of hard work involving universities, research institutes, businesses, regional representatives, training organisations and trade associations, actively working together to prepare a shared strategic vision of technological scenarios for the agri-food industry.
The document identifies four macro-priorities for intervention:
- Increasing the profitability of primary production by rationalising production costs, selecting varieties and improving product quality.
- Boosting the environmental sustainability of primary production, through a reduction in the amount of chemicals used, efficient management of natural resources (water, soil, beneficial insects and micro-organisms), development of suitable genetic material, a reduction in climate-altering and harmful emissions, and improvements in animal welfare, all of which are essential aspects of an effective green-economy model.
- Strengthening the resilience of the agroecosystem and adapting to climate change, while also reducing its environmental impact.
- Increasing consumer awareness, through access to information about the origin of raw materials and products, production and processing stages, nutritional content and quality.
- Boosting the environmental sustainability of processing by rationalising production processes to achieve reductions in energy and drinking water consumption, reductions in climate-altering and/or harmful emissions, and the recovery of by-products for food or energy purposes.
- Analysing and developing new rural models, with their interconnection of both local and industrial added value, reasoning on the reorganisation of the logistics and distribution system to foster resilience/self-sufficiency while creating economic and social value in the sector.
- Researching, analysing and proposing integrated rural models that allow those who live in and look after the local area to have a lifestyle comparable to the rest of the national population (digital infrastructure is one of the main issues), enabling the economic and social sustainability of the agri-food system in inland and rural areas.
- Equipping the agro-industrial system with technologically advanced tools to promote internationalisation, prevent food crises and promote quality production.
- Promoting cooperation, shared knowledge management and technological solutions inspired by Internet of Things concepts.
- Strengthening the link between production and local area, protecting biodiversity, promoting integrated risk management throughout the supply chain and a holistic risk/benefit approach.
- Developing new food communication and education strategies focusing on quality, safety and authenticity.
- Identifying, characterising and quantifying the different active substances, including flavourings, contained in products associated with the traditional Mediterranean diet in order to pinpoint their nutritional health profile, particularly as regards the content of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive components, and their synergistic effect, with a special focus on new or improved plant and animal varieties.
- Producing nutraceuticals, with health and nutritional claims backed by scientific evidence, which are stable, bioavailable, easy to use in recipes, proven to comply with regulations in terms of purity and safety requirements, and subject to controlled costs. These bioactive compounds can be extracted – using green methods within a sustainable biorefinery operating model – from plant matrices, marine biomass or by-products/waste from agro-industrial processing, or by means of biotechnological processes.
- Producing new foods based on the Mediterranean diet, formulated or fortified with bioactive health molecules and beneficial microorganisms, to improve their health and nutritional profile.
- Developing new foods tailored to the specific nutritional needs of population subgroups – related to age, disease risk, specific deficiencies, food intolerances, etc. – characterised by chemical, nutritional, sensory, health and nutrigenomic aspects.
- Identifying, characterising and validating new protein sources to complement traditional animal food production, useful for the production of new foods, ingredients and feeds with high nutritional and/or nutraceutical value and the development of new supply chains dedicated to their environmentally sustainable production, while also ensuring the competitiveness of the food, feed and ecological aquaculture industries for the diversification and differentiation of the food supply.
- Developing the use of microbial fermentation to improve the nutritional characteristics of both foodstuffs (also improved by the inclusion of bioactive molecules) and ingredients derived from food waste and by-products, as a mild technology alternative to heat treatments and/or the addition of preservatives and chemical additives, as well as a technology to extend the shelf-life of food products, thereby reducing food waste. Fermentation can also act as a means for the degradation of anti-nutritional compounds, the reduction of specific classes of chemical compounds, the bio-activation of functional food components and the production of fermented products with a positive impact on intestinal microbiome function, enhancing its resilience in terms of health, ageing, disease, drug use (antibiotics), and on intestinal mucosa function.
- Increasing awareness about the relationship between diet (both in a broad sense and with reference to foods and food ingredients) and diet-related diseases; increasing awareness about food ingredients and chemical contaminants, including those resulting from atmospheric and soil pollution, foods with obesogenic effects or endocrine-disrupting activity.
- Developing foods and diets designed to reduce diet-related disease and combat malnutrition, through promoting foods of good nutritional quality, which also consider the specific characteristics of individual gut microbiomes and their genetics. In this scenario, the use of food products containing pre-, pro-, sim-, post- and psycho-biotics to condition the function of the microbiota and prevent various diseases should be included.