23 April 2024

Digital transformation has become a crucial factor to boost competitiveness and efficiency in strategic sectors of the economy. Specifically, the agri-food sector, one of the fundamental pillars of the Spanish economy, is no stranger to this trend. In a world increasingly aware of the need to preserve the environment and ensure food safety, digital transformation has become a fundamental pillar in the search for sustainable solutions in the agri-food sector, revolutionizing the way it is produced, distributed and consumed. 

The agrifood sector is facing a series of unprecedented challenges, from climate change to the scarcity of natural resources and a growing world population. These challenges call for innovative solutions that ensure food production in a sustainable manner, while reducing environmental impact and promoting social equity. 

Digital transformation as a driver of change 

Digital transformation in the agri-food sector encompasses a wide range of applications and technologies, from the use of sensors and IoT devices on farms to the use of advanced data analytics for value chain upgrading, encompassing production, processing, supply and logistics. These disruptive technologies enable more efficient resource management, more sustainable agricultural production and more equitable food distribution. One of the key aspects of this transformation is the creation and management of data space. 

Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan 

Belgium has identified the agri-food sector as a strategic area to drive digital transformation. This initiative is aligned with the vision of modernizing and strengthening competitiveness in the sector, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitalization. 

Agriculture is not mentioned ‘as such’ in the recovery plan, but as a sector it is covered by several spearheads, mainly when it comes to: 

  • Making economy and society sustainable: climate, sustainability and innovation 
  • Transforming Flanders digitally: maximising digital 

The Recovery Plan envisages significant investments in digital infrastructure, training of professionals and promotion of technology in the agri-food sector, representing a key opportunity to drive the digital transformation of the agri-food sector in Belgium, strengthening its position in the global market and ensuring its long-term sustainability. 

Feasibility studies, living labs and data collection 

In the specific context of Belgium, where agriculture and the food industry play a strategic role, the Flemish government and Walloon government have created specific programs which aim to promote, through grant funding, the digital transformation in strategic sectors such as the agri-food sector. At a time when pressure to digitise is increasing in the food industry, many companies are aware of the benefits of modernisation. However, the road to digital maturity often remains challenging due to limited knowledge and fragmented information.  

The concept of ‘living labs’ is a promising approach to support companies in their digital journey. These labs provide an environment, both physical and digital, where companies can attend demonstrations and conduct tests to improve their digitisation processes. So, for both grants on feasibility studies in R&D and grants on the agricultural sector, following opportunities can be found in Belgium: 

Grant Region More info Deadline 
Haalbaarheidsstudie Flanders https://be.fi-group.com/grants/oo-haalbaarheidsstudie/ Open all year long 
COOCK Flanders https://be.fi-group.com/grants/collectieve-oo-en-collectieve-kennisverspreiding/ Open until 28 May 2024 
GREEN Investeringssteun Flanders https://be.fi-group.com/grants/green-investeringssteun/ Open until the end of 2024 
Aides aux investissements  (Nouveauté 2024) Wallonia https://agriculture.wallonie.be/aides-aux-investissements Open in 2024  
Bénéficier d’aides à la recherche et à l’innovation technologique Wallonia https://www.wallonie.be/fr/demarches/beneficier-daides-la-recherche-et-linnovation-technologique Open all year long 
WIN4COMPANY Wallonia https://be.fi-group.com/grants/win4company/ Open all year long 

The digital transformartion can be funded. One of the key benefits of digital transformation is accurate and immediate data collection. Replacing outdated processes with integrated technologies reduces errors and delays, and monitors the quality of products and processes. In addition, digital transformation contributes to safer products and procedures.  

Another key factor is the increased efficiency and profitability that digital transformation brings. By using analytical tools and strategic planning functionalities, companies can identify inefficiencies and capitalise on growth opportunities.  

But why is now the right time to accelerate digital transformation? Having the right technology is essential to remain resilient to disruption and keep pace with market developments. With the right tools, companies can respond quickly to changing consumer trends and take advantage of the latest technologies. Moreover, there is a growing focus on promoting local products and strengthening the sustainability of the sector in the entirety of Belgium. Companies are striving to use local raw materials and keep supply chains as short as possible.  

Innovation is the driving force behind digital transformation in the food industry 

From emerging startups to large multinational companies, the search for creative and sustainable solutions is critical to addressing the challenges of the 21st century. Cross-industry collaboration, investment in research and development, and fostering entrepreneurship are key to accelerating this transformation and ensuring a sustainable food future for all. 

Digital transformation offers a promising path to a more sustainable food future. By leveraging digital technologies and innovation, we can improve efficiency, equity and sustainability throughout the food chain. However, to achieve this goal, it is crucial that governments, businesses and civil society work together to promote policies and practices that drive digital transformation in an inclusive and responsible manner. It is a fact that more and more investment funds and venture capital are coming in to digitally transform the food supply chain. 

The goal is that, with determination and collaboration, we can build a food future that not only feeds the world’s population, but also protects our planet for future generations, using digital technology as a catalyst for sustainability and efficiency in the agri-food sector. 

FI Group has 20 years of experience and wants to guide you on your new growth trajectory. Our experts are at your disposal to analyse how your project fits into the available funding calls and work with you to take the next steps. 

Yvette Poumpalova 

Cristina Villalobos Tolmos 

Strategy Granter | Agricultural engineer and expert in aid to the Agri-Food Sector. 

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