Sustainable Food Summit – Vision of a Future Food System

*This blog was republished in part on Food+Tech Connect as ‘How Technology will decentralise the global food system’, Fair Food Network and Sustaination’s “3rd Industrial Revolution”.

 

How do we create a food system which is sustainable in the face of growing population pressures, changing weather patterns, declining natural resources, and a sharp decline in soil health?

A summit to co-create the future of the food system in Australia, and indeed around the world

This is one of the questions we held, when we recently headed to the shores of Australia to attend the National Sustainable Food Summit in Sydney, to hang out with some of the visionaries who are engaged in the dialogue of how the future of Australia’s food system will play out.

 

The summit was re-convened after last year’s successful meeting which brought people from around the country to listen to key note speakers, and engage in workshop sessions to talk about & co-create the future.

 

Several of the attendees were live tweeting the event on the hashtag #FoodSummit & #SFS12, and a Storify was being built as the event progressed: you can check it out here.

 

Asides from the fascinating conversations, great connections & pretty tasty conference food, there was a fair few insights into where the food system would be moving over the course of the next 20 years or so, and it’s our recollection of these insights we want to try and capture for you:

  • The food system, much like other industries around the world, is one of the next major industries that will become decentralised thanks to the web, peer-to-peer trading, and as a response to 30 years of legacy which has served financial interest more than the people & planet it relies upon.
  • A flexible, resilient & sustainable food system is already emerging, and with software & other food tech as a catalyst, is going to emerge even more rapidly. It will form a meshed web reaching around the world, of localised food systems within a bigger global food system.
  • The food system of the future will be complex – made up of traditional agriculture, urban agriculture, small-scale farms, bio-domes, vertical growing spaces, hydroponics, backyard gardening, community gardening, and more.
  • Organic Farming can feed 10 billion people, and small-scale sustainable agriculture is the way it will happen. Several recent reports, including one from the UN Special Rapporteur have identified this, and there is a growing focus on ecological / biological farming methods.
  • We will have to shift from the 99% industrialized food system we currently have globally, as resource pressures (peak oil & the likes) will mean current techniques will continue to push the cost of food up.  The transition may not be easy for all concerned, those with vested interests in keeping the status quo are likely to resist, but they will be swept away if they do not change (see changes in Music Industry!).
  • Huge advancements can be made as we shift to a decentralized food system, especially in the area of food & resource waste, which accounts for the main reason for current artificially high prices.  In 2010 we produced enough food to feed c.12 billion people, we just wasted a large portion of it.
  • Remove the ‘squeeze’ caused by the Food Distribution ‘profit centre’, and we will ease the financial, environmental & social strain currently put on food production & consumption.
  • Local & Regional food economies will be rejuvenated with a new set of values based on more than profit, beginning with the foundations that People & Planet should be at the centre of the food system, with Money/Profit playing the role of social exchange lubricant rather than sole economic measurement.
  • The emergence of vege box schemes, CSA’s, co-ops, buying groups & food hubs are all proving the future path of the food system right now. Software is a major lever of change to catalyse these forms of enterprise.
  • More farmers will be needed and more small-scale distributors.
  • The future food system will have a much greater transparency & traceability from Farm to Fork, enabled by food tech.

There were of course many many more, but these are some of the strongest trends that we heard at the conference.

 

The early keynote by Jeremy Rifkin was one of the talks which set a lot of the context for the conference, and whilst it’s fairly lengthy – there’s some great insights into economic trends which are worth a watch.

Take a look at more of the notes, podcasts, videos & other Food Summit resources collated by the 3 Pillars Network.

 

The summit felt like a positive reinforcement for a project we’ve already committed to, a great learning experience to push the boundaries of our knowledge, and a great opportunity to share space with so many other who had a similar vision of a decentralised food system.  We’re really excited by some of the projects which are happening around Australia, and indeed around the world as we speak – one of the blogs which we follow regularly is Food+Tech Connect which showcases some of the most exciting Food Tech projects in the States (and a few like us, outside). Make sure you read the ‘Hacking The Food System’ articles.

 

We recently spoke at the Changemakers Convention in Christchurch, New Zealand, where people from around the country outlined their passions, visions & actions in their chosen area of interest.  We spoke about “Food Security & Resilience in an Uncertain Future”, which led us to deliver a ‘state of the nation’ of how our food system currently teeters, some examples of food system fragility (largely taken from our blog about disasters & resilience), and the bright future that is emerging with technology enabling new ways for our food system to thrive.

 

For now, it’s back to work on supporting our fantastic beta customers, and spreading the word to more local food distributors who might make use of our system – please feel free to share with your networks if you might know someone who would like to change the food system for the better!

Mapping a peer-to-peer food system of the future

Disrupt & Support

I’ve spent a bit of time on Twitter lately, for my sins, and have been simply astounded at how many people are out there who’re working on a more planet & people friendly food system.

I’ve seen everything from hydroponics to beekeepers, urban designers to organic cosmetic boxes, bloggers & restaurant owners, environmental engineers to grass roots GMO activists.

It’s been really encouraging – we know we’re backing a swelling movement, and we’re here all guns blazing ourselves.

Our view is one of disruption of the status quo, and support of the individuals, communities & organisations who’re getting on with creating a better world.  We aim to disrupt the existing food distribution system – one which wields so much power – by directly supporting the farmers, community food enterprises & small scale food distributors with the tools to enable a local food movement.

Software is our team’s background (well except for mine which is environmental conservation & business..) so we were in a good position to create the web 2.0 tools for the people we know can create the kind of food system which will support people & planet more readily than the holders of the power in the industrialised food distribution, who are simply ‘working for their shareholders’.

Too much power in food distribution will cause a problemDisruption is important – it can create systemic change. Take what Napster did to the music industry for example; one simple innovation in digitising and sharing files has blown apart a system which is still re-sprouting in its wake – those that try to fight or cling on to the old paradigm will eventually be left behind. Those that embrace, innovate, and find new ways – will be rewarded with inheriting a new system.  We see disruption of the power balance of food distribution in the same way.

We realise of course that we are not going to do this on our own – in fact the ground work is already well underway – food hubs, vege box schemes, organic farmers, fair food bloggers, sustainability consultants, local food enterprise resources, education & future thinkers are already doing stirling work in this area.  That’s why we’re working with local & friendly food champions like Food Connect and the Soil & Health Association, who are doing great work in education, advocacy & research into what a sustainable food system looks like.

In the meantime, before our launch, we look forward to hearing from you about what your view of a better food system is, and how you’re working towards it.