Ep. 5: How to Support Food Security with Agricultural Trade

In our fifth episode, we interview Dr Jonathan Brooks, Head of the Agro-Food Trade and Markets Division at The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Listen here:

Continue reading

Advertisements

Anyone with an interest in agricultural tech startups will find this session, golden

#CHFoodFuture warmup – session 4

Burning questions on global food security will be addressed next week at the conference A Sustainable Future: production supply and consumption at Chatham House, London. The entire event is divided into five sessions and each could be a conference in itself. It’s important to warmup and enter the right mindset before the event begins next Monday 7th December 2015. To help do that, each day this week I will post an entry discussing each session. Click here to read session 3: Should there be more agricultural scientists and less food marketers?

Session 4 – Mobilizing Food Research, Development and Finance

The five questions discussed in the session are:

  1. What can be done to support technological developments with the potential to revolutionize global food systems?
  2. What are the barriers to scaling up to existing technologies? How might these areas be overcome within Europe as well as in developing countries?
  3. How can the private sector be incentivised to invest in the development of other agribusiness?
  4. How can international cooperation be encouraged to increase investment in the food system including in technological advancements?
  5. To what extent can unconventional protein sources (including plant-based protein, algae and lab-grown meat) and genetically modified crops and animal products contribute to more sustainable, more nutritious and fairer consumption patterns?
13167773903_18d77a60bb_o

Used with permission from Lisa Delgado Castillo

Sensors, precision harvesters and mowers, drones, herbicides and weeding compositions, GMO seeds, polymeric compositions, planting methods for vegetables and fruits, aquaponics, hydroponics, corn varieties and hybrids, are just a few of the agriculture patents registered worldwide between 2010 and 2014 according to the Crop Farming 2030 report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). According to the BCG report,in the last five years patents were registered as follows:

  • Crop protection: 6,815
  • Precision and conventional equipment: 5,337 patents
  • Seeds: 2,407
  • Fertilizers: 987

Amongst those categories, patent distribution per category amongst regions was:

  • Crop protection: Europe (35%), North America (35%), China (23%), and elsewhere (7%)
  • Precision and conventional equipment: North America (70%), Europe (15%), China (8%), and elsewhere (7%)
  • Seeds: North America (78%), Europe (19%), China (2%), and elsewhere (1%)
  • Fertilisers: North America (28%), Europe (4%), China (53%), and elsewhere (15%)

Immediately, several questions come to mind: why are seed patents overwhelmingly recorded in North America? What are the implications for the rest of the world, in particular, for smallholder farmers who constitute 98% of global farms? Overall, Africa and Latin America have a small role in patent registration. These two regions also have high rates of family farming: 97% in Africa and 82% in South America (source). Does this matter? What can we say about low patent registration in countries with very high percentages of family farming?

Used with permission by Lisa Delgado Castillo

Chair:

Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College London and Chair, Montpellier Panel

Speakers:

  • Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, European Commission
  • George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment, UK
  • Frank Rijsberman, Chief Executive Officer, CGIAR Consortium
  • Rob Bertram, Chief Scientist, USAID Bureau for Food Security
  • Nick von Westenholz, CEO, Crop Protection Association

Should there be more agricultural scientists and less food marketers?

#CHFoodFuture warmup – session 3

Burning questions on global food security will be addressed next week at the conference A Sustainable Future: production supply and consumption at Chatham House, London. The entire event is divided into five sessions and each could be a conference in itself. It’s important to warmup and enter the right mindset before the event begins next Monday 7th December 2015. To help do that, each day this week I will post an entry discussing each session. Click here to read session 2: Sustainable Production and Consumption: who cares and who is going to pay for it anyway?

Session 3 – Food Value Chain and Sustainability and Efficiency

The five questions that the segment tries to answer are:

  • How can vital resources, including water and land, be costed in food production and trade, and what might be the incentives for doing so?
  • What policy or regulatory options are available to governments seeking to promote less resource-intensive production?
  • How can the business case for developing sustainability across the food value chain be strengthened, is sufficient understanding of food security issues within industry and what can be done to ensure food businesses play their role?
  • How can responsible ingredient sourcing be demonstrated by industry and is there a role for collaboration in supporting this?
  • How might businesses reduce food waste along the supply chain, from harvest to consumer, to bring both environmental and cost benefits?

 

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

A food market in Bangkok. Photo credit: Lisa Delgado Castillo, used with permission.

This section is so essential. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend Food Matters Live. Before I continue, I have to acknowledge that this is commercial event primarily that attempts to integrate academics, government and NGOs; this is extremely valuable, however, the nature of the event must not be forgotten. I had the opportunity to attend talks with promising speakers, nonetheless, I was disappointed about the lack of preoccupation with the source of our food. It seemed that few cared about where crops come from. Dear food businesses and retailers, where does the raw material for those gluten-free snacks come from? Where does the chocolate for your premium bars come from? There were themes focused on packaging, social media marketing, health and safety, the free-from trend, and even know there was some focus on sustainable food businesses, it lacked the rigour and preoccupation with the actual production of food. Throughout the event, with few exceptions, there was a general neglect towards acknowledging where raw materials are sourced from, the implications and the current issues in the context of climate change. The last session I attended, coincidentally, included a speaker that will also be present in session 3 of the A Sustainable Future event. His name is Dan Crossley, Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council. During his session at Food Matters Live, I made a question directed to one of the speakers that was concerned with the creation of more food outlets that supplied plant-based foods. My issue was not with her focus on calling for more plant-based businesses, restaurants and markets, but with the apparent neglect towards mentioning anything regarding to crop production: where are these plants sourced from? Is it sustainable? I am deeply concerned with the omission of actual food production.

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

Photo credit: Lisa Delgado Castillo, used with permission.

This is why this session is perhaps my favourite: who holds the responsibility for guaranteeing global food production? Shouldn’t businesses pay a tax to go to research, scientists, academics, who are expanding knowledge around fertilisers, crop resistance, improved techniques for cultivation in the context of climate change? Who pays for this development?

Based on Food Matters Live, it seems to me that the answer to question three: is there sufficient understanding of food security issues within industry? is no.

There isn’t (with some exceptions). Not enough preoccupation exists on crop growth, with improving agricultural production, with the actual job of being the field managing fertilisers, understanding irrigation and minimising post-harvest loss. And yes, what can be done to ensure food businesses played a role? How can we create a pool of funds that food businesses contribute to that will be dedicated to research, development and communication of knowledge that advances and benefits the entire industry. Some agricultural knowledge is a public good provided by organisations like FAO. There is also private knowledge developed and not shared. What is fair? Can farmers who use only public knowledge compete with the private sector? Is it ethical for businesses to fund public research? Will it be skewed? And yes, what can be done to ensure food businesses played a role? How can we create a pool of funds that food businesses contribute to that will be dedicated to research, development and communication of knowledge that advances and benefits the entire industry? Some agricultural knowledge is a public provided by organisations like FAO. There is also private knowledge developed and not shared. What is fair? Can farmers who only use public knowledge compete with the private sector? Is it ethical for businesses to fund public research? Will it be skewed?

I expect the fourth question to address these concerns: how can responsible ingredient sourcing be demonstrated by industry and is there a role for collaboration in supporting this?

Industry should indeed substantiate ingredient sourcing – responsible ingredient sourcing. Consumers in developed countries usually pay a premium but they remain blind to what it actually took to the deliver that superfood-paleo-beautifully-packaged cereal bar at Waitrose. This must change if sustainable global food systems are to be established.

Speakers:

Sustainable Production and Consumption: who cares and who is going to pay for it anyway?

#CHFoodFuture warmup – session 2

Burning questions on global food security will be addressed next week at the conference A Sustainable Future: production supply and consumption at Chatham House, London. The entire event is divided into five sessions and each could be a conference in itself. It’s important to warmup and enter the right mindset before the event begins next Monday 7th December 2015. To help do that, each day this week I will post an entry discussing each session. Click here to read session 1: How are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to global food systems?

Session 2 – Sustainable Production and Consumption

The questions that will be addressed are:

  1. What patterns of food production and consumption need to be developed to ensure a sustainable global food system? What are the roles of technology, education and government policy within this framework?
  2. How can the cultural productivity of small-scale farmers be improved? In achieving this, what is the role of access to land and resources, education, market and financial services?
  3. What impact will changes in food demand in developing and emerging economies have on global food production?
  4. Where and how might other policy agendas, in particular health, be leveraged to encourage more sustainable consumption patterns in developed and developing countries?
  5. How might public attitudes and awareness around the environmental impact of diet be influenced, and to what extent is this necessary to shift consumption patterns?

Oh my. Where should we begin? These are tough, complex, systemic questions.

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

Photo credit: Lisa Delgado Castillo, used with permission.

1. What patterns of food production and consumption need to be developed to ensure a sustainable global food system? What are the roles of technology, education and government policy within this framework?

Let’s look at the first one focusing on the consumption part: “what patterns of consumption need to be developed to have a sustainable global food system?”. The scope of the question is tremendous. We are talking about the consumption patterns of populations, cultures, entire demographics. And yes, what are the roles of technology, education and government policy within this framework!? Will education change people’s diets? Will government policy change people’s diets? This brings to mind the recent document published by public health UK. The publication suggests action on reducing sugar consumption by introducing a levy aiming to reduce sales through increased prices on sugary foods. Will British consumers react to this sugar tax in the same way the recent 5P charge on plastic bags or will they take to the streets filled with outrage? So interesting.

2. How can the cultural productivity of small-scale farmers be improved? In achieving this, what is the role of access to land and resources, education, market and financial services?

Now, the second question is fundamental. Small-scale farmers suffer from the problems mentioned in the question: access to land and resources, education, market and financial services.

Further questions arise: do small-scale farmers own the land or do they live on it and pay rent to their landlords through their work or do they live elsewhere? If so, what are the implications of both options. On resources, what kind are we referring to and how do we prioritise them? Fertilizers? Technology? ICTs? Furthermore, what is meant by education? Are we referring to specific agricultural education (i.e. identification and treatment of pest and pathogens) or are we contemplating a more holistic education, perhaps training farmers to add value to their production to set up their own sustainable food enterprises?

In terms of access to markets, infrastructure plays a huge role here, especially in developing countries where food waste occurs in the transportation from the farm to the market, vegetables and fruits on many occasions require their temperatures to be lowered to prevent their degradation and toxicity. To sustain a cold chain from farm to market, infrastructure is vital, good roads, contribution to timeliness efficiency reduce cost. That is just one example. Finally, financial services what is meant by financial services and how can smallholders benefit from financial services and what models need to be set up? Does any of this matter in the context of climate change and poor infrastructure?

3. What impact will changes in food demand in developing and emerging economies have on global food production?

The third question is still widely debated but the main premise behind it seems to be that changing diets in emerging economies are having consequences on the demand of animal-derived foods. Meat and dairy are very water intensive agricultural activities and most of the global population belongs to emerging markets. What are the consequences on water supply with their changing preferences towards meat and dairy? Is it sustainable? Or should we try to deter their demand? Can we? Should we? Who is we?

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

Thai population is a good example of emerging markets. Photo credit: used with permission from Lisa Delgado Castillo.

That line of questioning, exactly, brings us into the fourth and fifth questions:

4. Where and how might other policy agendas, in particular health, be leveraged to encourage more sustainable consumption patterns in developed and developing countries?

5. How might public attitudes and awareness around the environmental impact of diet be influenced, and to what extent is this necessary to shift consumption patterns?

I am a vegetarian and my dairy consumption is low. What has led me to adopt this diet? The change has been progressive, over the course of the last decade. It started in my teens and why? What was I exposed to? Did my upbringing have any impact? I come from a country where it is believed that meals are not complete without a source of animal protein or that meat is expensive and its consumption is a signal of social status.

In the United Kingdom, dairies play an important role – the popular diet is rich in cheese and milk. Tea and cream comes to mind, it is strongly ingrained in culture. Is the pretension of modifying diets by informing the public realistic? How do we reach the public? What media and platforms are most effective for doing so? Who cares and who is going to pay for it anyway? Who actually has the public’s best interest in mind?

The chair of section is Gerda Verbur, the permanent representative of the Netherlands to FAO, IFAD and WFP, and Chair, Comimitee on World Food Security (2013-2015).

Speakers:

How are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to global food systems?

#CHFoodFuture warmup – session 1

Burning questions on global food security will be addressed next week at the conference A Sustainable Future: production supply and consumption at Chatham House, London. I am thrilled to be attending and thankful to Chatham House for their support. The entire event is divided into five sessions and each could be a conference in itself. That’s why it’s important to warmup and enter the right mindset before the event begins next Monday 7th December 2015. To help do that, each day this week I will post an entry discussing each session of the event.

Photo credit: Lisa Delgado Castillo, used with permission

Session 1 – Sustainable Development Goals: Towards 2030

sustainable-development-goals-infographic-un-1024x576 The questions this section will address are:

  1. What are the implications of the Sustainable Development Goals on the global food system?
  2. What are the biggest challenges in meeting the goals, be they political, environmental, technical or operational?
  3. How might policy mechanisms be used to achieve sustainable food systems, food security and nutrition at global level? What is the role for national and international actors?
  4. How can the private sector be encouraged to bear responsibility for developing a sustainable system? Are public-private partnerships the right approach, and if so, how can they be fostered?

Important concepts to understand are the Sustainable Development Goals. Although some of them have an explicit relationship to global food systems (e.g. goal 2: zero hunger, goal 6: clean water and sanitation, goal 13: climate action, goal 14: life below water and goal 15: life on land), all them can be linked in one way or another. An inefficient food system leads to hunger and contributes to poverty (goal 1), in several ways including contributing to low productivity. A broken global food system, gets in the way of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for everyone because nutrition is a fundamental component of human life. Children suffering from malnutrition will most likely do poorly in school, this is contrary to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all (goal 4).

BiIPgB6CQAAZn4n.jpg-large

Guaranteeing women are empowered in agriculture, since we play such important roles in the availability access and utilisation of food, is essential in a healthy global food system (goal 5). Work and economic growth depend on the well-being of workers, global food systems have, again, the responsibility to provide that well-being (goal 6). Roads to transport goods to markets, warehouses for storage, dry and sheltered areas to store post harvest, machines for threshing, communication systems for understanding market prices and weather forecasting are all examples of infrastructure global food systems rely on (goal 9). Inequalities are worsened by hunger (goal 10). 70% of the population is expected to live in cities; food systems will have to supply enough calories and nutrients for all (goal 11). Managing shifting diets in emerging countries is a challenge with their increasing demand for dairy and meat, because of implications on water availability, energy requirements and the use of cereals to feed livestock instead of humans (goal 12). Hungry societies will never be peaceful (goal 16) and creating efficient, inclusive and healthy global food systems is an international responsibility (goal 17).

The keynote speaker for the session is Dr Kanayo Nwanze, President, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Speakers:

Because this event will be held on the same dates as the global climate change discussions at COP 21 in Paris, I expect that climate change will play a big role in the event’s discussions. See you tomorrow for session 2.

 

 

Expo 2015 Milano – Part 2: Sink or swim in a sea of hyper-stimulation

This is part 2 of a post dedicated to my Expo 2015 Milano visit, click here to read part 1.

When people ask me why Colombia so many distinct microclimates and why is it that we can go from heavy coat to swimming pool weather in two hours by car, I always have to pause and reflect. It’s not easy. How to explain why the country can produce such variety of produce and be home to such biodiversity?

That was the challenge countries with their own pavilions had: to explain to the general public how and why their country contributes to food security. Remember, this was a massive exhibition not an enclosed museum. Many visitors were on holidays, dense chunks of text and jargon would not be enough. Having said in part 1 that covering absolutely everything is really not possible because the space and events really exceeded our three-day capacity, this part will focus on the learning experiences that to me, a food security graduate, felt original, approachable and accurate.

Back to the question on Colombian agricultural production, they took a wonderful approach that was the same guiding concept presented by Ecuador. Appropriate. Can you guess what it is? Why not use the specific characteristic responsible for most of it? Altitude! Both countries have area that makes up some of the Andean mountainous chain. Altitudinal variations and a proximity to the equator creates lots of different thermic floors that support our varied agricultural production.

Communicating this to the general public is not easy, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the entire agriculture and food security theme. So how did it work for the visitor?

Colombia, for example, used several different rooms and projections, each one was a specific microclimate and its crop production. Ecuador had a similar approach and used these fascinating holograms.

 

Let’s briefly go back to the layout of the Expo. The countries not included in the clusters, had their own pavilion. This is a whole different universe. As an example, this is what the Ecuadorian, Colombian, Chinese and Turkish pavilions looked liked from outside. They were architectural feats! You can click on the images to see them better.

 

To motivate visitors to visit all the pavilions, the Expo organisers created this mock passport. You had to buy it separately (€5) but I really liked it as a way to remember all the countries ‘visited’ each day. Every time I exited a pavilion, I would open my passport and get a stamp. Here are a few photos so you get the idea. Click on the images.

 

Because Kazakstan will host Expo 2017 Astana, their pavilion in Milan became the centre of attention because as a strategy to attract visitors to their own event, they created an incredible pavilion that ended in a 3-D cinema experience that felt like a mini rollercoaster. Oh! I forgot to say, in between all that I learned that the apple originated in Kazakstan and that they’re the world’s largest producer of wheat. This is the thing I meant to emphasise on hyper stimulation. There was so much technology and design going on, the message (food security and renewable energy) sometimes was lost.

The lines for the ‘top’ pavilions sometimes reached 240 minutes: Japan, Saudi Arabia, Israel come to mind. My favourite pavilion, was Japan. The exterior design was not only beautiful, but the pavilion was full of detail but balance. I never felt overwhelmed. Everything was elegant and interesting. Their pavilion ended in a virtual dinner where we held real chopsticks to eat from dishes behind a screen.

We also really liked the interactive ‘flashcards’ of Azerbaijan. They were massive touch screens that gave bite size stories on important produce of the country. We liked the concept, the design, the length and wording of each card, not too little and not too much. Kept us engaged and we learned something we can recall.

Overall, I enjoyed this Expo. I think it really did raise awareness on Food Security, at least in Milan. For visitors, it was an overwhelming festival of technology that left you with an introductory idea on how some countries contribute to food security. All the feedback and questions are welcomed! Click on the pictures to read the captions.

Expo 2015 Milano – Part 1: “You queued 2 hours to go to Japan?”

Yes, I queued two hours to go to Japan. I mean, the Japan pavilion at Expo 2015 Milano and it was worth it!

If you’re confused, and for all the friends who have asked what in the world Expo 2015 Milano is and what was I up to in Milan, this post will shortly answer that. But! Better yet, I will share my thoughts as a member of the general audience on the first of four goals of an Expo: educating the public.

IMG_8999

Can you see where the corridor ends? This picture was taken from the terrace of the U.S. pavilion.

What is an Expo?

An “Expo” is an international exhibition approved by the intergovernmental organisation, International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE). Exhibitions must last more than three weeks and claim to be of non-commercial nature. So, after bidding to host the 2015 Expo, the city of Milan won. It then chose: “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” as the theme for the exhibition.

I hope that’s enough context to continue reading, but if you would like to learn more about what an Expo is, click here.

Keen to learn more about food security and agriculture, I decided to go to Expo 2015 Milano. My mother joined for three days in a row – I’m grateful to her for being such good company and discussing several points included in this post.

According to the Expo 2015 Milano website, over 140 countries participated. The event was held in an area in the outskirts of Milan and after getting there, the first thing we had to do each day was… queue. Lots and lots of curious minds. I talk a bit more on educating the general public in part 2 but for now, according to the Expo 2015 Milano website, over 20 million visitors like us were expected during the opening months (May 1st to October 31st ). It’s encouraging to see so many people eager to learn about food security.

How to organise 140 countries, companies, and NGOs in the same space and under one theme?

I was very curious about this point. How to create a cohesive experience that represents the two central themes, food security and renewable energy, but that allows each country enough separateness for the visitor to assimilate differences.

Each day, after we presented our tickets, we walked and walked to get to the proper entrance and when we did, we looked down a very long corridor with huge buildings to both sides (a.k.a. pavilions). We quickly realised, as a friend of a friend said, it’s like “Epcot on steroids”. Unless you have lots of stamina and many days to allot to the Expo (locals), it is difficult to cover absolutely everything.

So back to the question, how to organise so many different themes in one space?

The Expo created 9 clusters: Rice, Cocoa and Chocolate, Coffee, Fruits and Legumes, Spices, Bio-Mediterraneum, Islands, Sea and Food, Cereals and Tubers and Arid Zones. Clusters grouped several countries which focused on explaining that specific crop, good or commodity (or in map lingo: ‘genius loci or food chain’). Each cluster was signalled by a big installation showcasing the beginning of the section. Click on the pictures to see the detail of these market-like installations.

 

On the first day we visited the Fruit and Legumes and Coffee clusters. We weren’t particularly impressed by the former. Granted, each country had a limited display room but beyond seeing jars and bags of soya, lentils and beans, we didn’t actually learn anything. Most of these countries had other types of goods on display to sell (i.e. bracelets, wooden sculptures), the message wasn’t clear and although we understand that by September people working in the expo are tired, some expositors were completely disengaged from visitors.

My favourite cluster was Cereals and Tubers because it had a very special garden in the centre. There was plenty of vegetation in the Expo, but this garden was different. It was actually a temporary crop area with the most important cereals and tubers on display. Yes, I mean real plants. How cool!

 

Rice, wheat and maize, make up 60% of the world’s calories. We go to the supermarket to buy oats, bread, tortillas, pasta, noodles and corn flakes all neatly packed in a box. Rarely do we remember the plants that provide the prime ingredient and what they look like. This garden showed each crop and having learnt how important biosecurity protection measures are, especially for a country with agricultural production like Italy, I was able to appreciate seeing real cassava, rice, wheat, maize and even quinoa plants as part of this learning experience at this Expo. This is something to highlight because I can only imagine all the paperwork, procedures and maintenance to make sure all plants on display were there and in good condition. I visited during September (the fifth month of the Expo) and guess what? All the plants were still alive. The rice looked a bit yellowish, but it was alive! I thoroughly enjoyed this bit of the exhibition and would love to set up a similar garden to let kids and adults touch and see the plants that make up the bulk of their daily breakfasts and takeouts.

Click here to read part 2.