How do we create a sustainable food system in the face of growing population pressures, changing weather patterns, declining natural resources, and a sharp decline in soil health?
This is one of the questions askedÂ atÂ the second annual Â National Sustainable Food SummitÂ in Sydney, whereÂ visionaries came together for dialogue about how we can co-create the future of Australiaâs food system. It should be no surprise that information technology played a central role in the conversation. Peer-to-peer sharing, traceability and enterprise software are just a few of the ways technology is catalyzing aÂ flexible, resilient and Â sustainable food system. With food tech as a catalyst, the possibility of an interconnected web of localised food systems within a bigger global food system seems possible.
Aside from the fascinating conversations, great connections and pretty tasty conference food, there were a fair few insights into where the food system will be moving over the course of the next 20 years or so. The following is a summary of these insights.Â Several of the attendeesÂ were also live tweeting the event on the hashtagÂ #FoodSummitÂ andÂ #SFS12. You can check out the Storify from the eventÂ here.
- The food system, much like other industries around the world, is one of the next major industries thatÂ will become decentralised and democratizedÂ thanks to the Internet and peer-to-peer trading. Growing interest in upending 30 years of legacy, which has served the financial interests of a few more than the people and planet it relies upon, are at the heart of this transformation.
- The food system of the future will be complex â made up of Â industrial agriculture, urban agriculture, small-scale farms, bio-domes, vertical growing spaces, hydroponics, backyard gardening, community gardening and more.
- Organic FarmingÂ canÂ feed 10 billion people, and small-scale sustainable agriculture is the way it will happen. SeveralÂ recent reports, including one from the UN Special Rapporteur, confirm this, and there is a growing focus onÂ ecological / biological farming methods.
- We will have to shift from the 99% industrialized global food system, as resource pressures (peak oil and the likes) resulting from current techniques will continue to push the cost of food up.Â 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 and resource waste, which accounts for the main reason for current artificially high prices.Â In 2010, we produced enough food to feed 12 billion people, we just wasted a large portion of it.
- Changing the âprofit centreâ squeeze of food distribution, will ease the financial, environmental and social strain currently put on food production and consumption.
- Local and regional food economies will be rejuvenated with a new set of values based onÂ more than profit, beginning with the foundations that people and 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 vegetable box schemes, CSAâs, co-ops, buying groups and food hubs are signs of how our future, decentralized food system might look. Software is a major lever 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 and traceability from farm-to-fork, enabled by food tech.
The early keynote by Jeremy Rifkin was one of the talks which set a lot of the context for the conference, and while itâs fairly lengthy, there are some great insights about economic trends which are worth a watch.
Take a look at more of theÂ notes, podcasts, videos and other Food Summit resources collated by the 3 Pillars Network.
The summit felt like a positive reinforcement for a project that my company Bucky Box has already committed to. It was 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.Â We are really excited by some of the projects which are happening around Australia, and indeed around the world as we speak .
I recently spoke at the Changemakers Convention in Christchurch, New Zealand, where people from around the country outlined their passions, visions and actions in their chosen area of interest.Â We spoke about âFood Security and Resilience in an Uncertain Futureâ, which led us to deliver a âstate of the nationâ of how our food system currently teeters, some examples ofÂ food system fragility (largely taken from our blog about disasters and resilience), and the bright future that is emerging with technology enabling new ways for our food system to thrive.
For now, itâs back to work on supporting our fantastic beta customers, andÂ spreading the word to more local food distributorsÂ who might make use of our system â please feel free to share with your networks if you might know someone who would like to change the food system for the better!