ESA title

Space for a Wasteless Food Supply Chain

  • Opportunity Call for Proposals (Competitive)
  • Activity Kick-start Activity
  • Opening date 02-11-2023
  • Closing date 01-02-2024

Funding Opportunity

This opportunity provides funding to European teams who would like to develop a service related to halving waste through the food supply chain. Funding will be provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) for 6-month projects called ‘Kick-Starts’, which can lead to larger scale Demonstration Projects and Feasibility Studies. Kick-Starts are 75% funded by ESA up to a maximum of €60K per contract. Proposed services must use satellite data or space-based technologies. Please see the ‘Authorisation of Funding’ section below to check whether your team is eligible for funding.

The Challenge

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the agri-food sector accounted for 30% of worldwide gross energy consumption in 2020. Agriculture is the most energy intensive stage of the food chain, accounting for one third of the entire system. 

The agri-food sector is also affected by inefficiencies throughout the food supply chain, with an estimated one third of all edible food produced either lost or wasted. Food loss predominantly occurs at the production, post-harvest, and processing stages of the food supply chain, whilst food waste occurs at the end of the supply chain. 

Over the next 40 years, human population is predicted to continue to grow, significantly increasing food demand and leading to intensified use of natural resources such as soil and freshwater. Such increasing pressures on the food supply chain necessitates the transition to sustainable food systems to avoid environmental damages caused by current resource intensive practices.

The concept of sustainable food systems is at the heart of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed to by the UN Member States, in particular:

  • Goal 2 (“end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”) 
  • Goal 12 (“ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”) 
  • Goal 13 (“take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”). 

These goals challenge the sustainability of the food supply chain and fuel the need for action and innovation. 

Responding to these challenges, the European Union (EU) has committed to meeting SDG Target 12.3: to halve food waste per capita by 2030 and reduce food losses along the food production and supply chains through its  Farm to Fork Strategy, part of the European Green Deal. Within the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste (FLW) informs on recommendations specifically related to reducing food loss and waste. FLW has emphasised the importance of better planning and forecasting of food consumption using digital solutions, alongside the need for circularity, as well as optimising the distribution and coordination of the food supply chain. As part of this activity, the organisation “Champions 12.3” has been founded to reach SDG target 12.3. The Champions have subsequently mobilised their efforts with the 10x20x30 initiative. This initiative aims to bring together 10+ of the world’s largest food retailers and providers (such as Sodexo, Tesco, Walmart), each engaging at least 20 suppliers to halve food loss and waste by 2030.

Topics Of Relevance

The following relevant topics were identified for this Kick-start Theme, along with examples of potential applications that could be proposed.

Following food production/ harvest, food loss during the production and distribution stages is estimated to constitute 14% of all food waste. Satcom and GNSS can be used to monitor food quality and safety, allowing food processors and distributors to identify and discard spoiled or contaminated food before it reaches consumers. This can help to prevent food waste by ensuring that only high-quality food is processed and distributed. Satcom can also be used to connect farmers, food processors, distributors, and consumers, enabling them to share information and coordinate their efforts to reduce food waste. This can help to reduce waste by enabling all parties in the food supply chain to work together more effectively. Similarly, satellite imagery and remote sensing can be used to monitor the transportation and distribution of food, allowing supply chain managers to identify impediments and inefficiencies that may cause food to spoil or go to waste. 

A significant proportion of food waste is generated at the consumption stage due to unpredictable consumer behaviour, 21st century lifestyles, and a  general lack of awareness among consumers of the impact of food waste. However, it is possible to influence consumer behaviour around food waste by:

  • advancing consumer knowledge
  • promoting the use of leftover food

Education and awareness campaigns can provide consumers with information about the consequences of their actions and help to promote more sustainable behaviour. For example, GNSS could be used to provide detailed information on where food has originated from to quantify the environmental impact of a food product. In many cases, tracking information is either not available to the consumer or does not provide significant details, which affects consumer choice and trust in the product.

Incentives and rewards such as discounts offered to consumers who engage in environmentally friendly behaviour can also help reduce food waste. For example, following an online food shop, households could track use-by dates of their groceries with a mobile application. After waste collection, a household could get rewarded for food that is composted. In remote areas, this could be enabled by satcom technologies that verify compost collection, linked to an online rewards account.

An awareness of lifestyles and consumer behaviour leads to the formation of new supply chains. For example, the food waste hierarchy framework enables, corporations to set actions to reduce and manage food waste. The most desirable actions are “avoid” or “reuse” such as education campaigns, packaging initiatives to improve shelf life, food rescue donations, collections or repurposing aesthetically imperfect but still edible food. 


A report from the Champions 12.3 found that half of the seven hundred companies in seventeen countries which were reviewed obtained a 14-fold or greater Return on Investment (RoI) by investing in efforts to catalyse food waste reduction. This return on investment comes from 

  • not buying surplus goods 
  • increasing the share of food sold to customers
  • introducing new product lines
  • reducing waste management costs. 

Technologies to assess and track waste through standardisation of databases have been successfully implemented in organisations like Sodexo (WasteWatch) or Tesco (Farm to Fork Framework).

In addition to consumer behaviour, the food recycling industry is driven by the development of new and interconnected technologies from different industries designed to help traditional markets move forward into the digitalisation era and help valorise unavoidable food waste. For example:

  • (IoT-based) Internet of Waste to reduce the inefficiencies in waste logistics (material quality assessing sensors, smart bins or fill level sensors to monitor fill levels in garbage containers allows collection facilities to ensure timely pickup) 
  • big data (demand forecasting and inventory management to redistribute food surplus in supermarkets) 
  • blockchain (Quick Response (QR) codes that gives the consumer a transparent product story).

Value Of Space 

There are many opportunities to use space assets and to integrate them with other technologies for the above topics. Some (non-exhaustive) examples are listed hereafter.

Satellite Communications (satcom)

Satcom enables wideband seamless connectivity to food supply chain actors including in remote areas not covered by terrestrial connectivity. 
For example:

  • Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) or narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) for rubbish bins, containers, and recycling stations transferring the container status data to optimise emptying frequency and waste planning. In addition, RFID (Radio-frequency identification) 
  • IoT sensors used for intelligent packaging, labelling and data carriers to monitor, trace and communicate food quality 
  • Indicators in smart fridges (e.g. time, temperature, pH, colour, CO2 or H2S gas sensors to detect changes due to biological reactions or biosensors detecting e.g. pathogens). 

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) 

The use of GNSS data in the food supply chain can be divided into indoor and outdoor applications.

Indoor positioning can take advantage of LoRaWAN and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) in applications such as:  

  • Recycling robots (identify co-mingled waste materials and assess their recycling potential in offices and retail stores) 
  • Smart bins in indoor events. 

Outdoor positioning will be compiled by a GNSS base station and use different techniques to enhance the precision of position data derived from satellite data, e.g. RTK, that will leverage applications such as:  

  • Cold chain tracking (tracking of perishable and frozen foods combining IoT-based technologies for early spoilage detection or autonomous waste collection vehicles); 
  • Route optimisation (pick-up food nearing expiration date and redistribute it or use big data and analytics for waste collection trucks) 
  • Field inspections (using drones equipped with sensor fusion algorithms can advise farmers how to use optimal resources and reduce risks of food loss) 
  • Food redistribution, at consumer level, food-sharing platforms can connect neighbours with local businesses to share surplus edible food, knowing when and where the order will be delivered (food nearing its sell-by date, spare home-grown vegetables).  

Satellite Earth Observation (satEO) 

The democratisation of satEO data through multiple suppliers, imagery type (e.g. passive or active) and multitemporal High Resolution (HR) or Very High Resolution (VHR) provides invaluable information to support innovation in the food supply chain. Time series images can be used to collect updated information on the policy, aimed at reducing food loss and showing the positive effects on the environment in terms, for instance, of reduced tonnes of waste. 

What We Look For

Kick-Start activities explore the business opportunity and the technical viability of new applications and services that exploit one or more space assets (e.g. Satellite Communications, Satellite Navigation, Earth Observation, Human Spaceflight Technology). 

This call for Kick-Start activities is dedicated to the theme of ‘Wasteless Food Supply Chain’, which means that the call is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled applications and services relating to the digitalisation and sustainability of the agricultural sector, mostly in Europe but also beyond.

How To Apply

  1. Register by completing the online questionnaire on esa-star (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’)
  2. Visit esa-star publications and search for this opportunity to download the official tender documentation. Official documents will include proposal templates, a draft contract, and additional information about this opportunity.
  3. Use the official documents to write your proposal and obtain a ‘Letter of Support’ from your National Delegation (if needed - see Authorisation of Funding section below).
  4. Submit your proposal via esa-star Tendering by the deadline.

Authorisation Of Funding

ESA Space Solutions can provide funding to carry out Kick-Start activities to any company (economic operator) residing in the following Member States: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Germany, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom have pre-authorised the funding to this call. Contact details of each national delegate can be found here.

Kick-Start activities are 75% funded by the European Space Agency up to a maximum of €60K per contract.


A webinar took place on 13 September 2023 at 11:00 CEST.