Future Harvests – The book is coming soon!

April 9, 2010

 

The editing of my book “Future Harvests – The next agricultural revolution” is about completed. All that is left to do is developing the cover and start the publishing.

I have already received orders, even before the book is out. That is quite a good sign. And a great surprise for me.

If you wish to be updated automatically when the book is published, just subscribe in the sidebar window on the right.

To describe the topics addressed, I have posted three short promotional videos on YouTube. In previous articles (The fun of writing this book and The next agricultural revolution), I had already given an idea about the content of the book.

Video #1: The Fundamentals (duration 2:37) – Introduction to the background and fundamental principles mentioned in the book “Future Harvests – The next agricultural revolution” to achieve food security for 9 billion people in 2050. Topics such as demographics, the shift in economic power, the control of food  and food security strategies are reviewed. Sustainability, innovation, efficient market driven food production and strong leadership are required.

or click here if video does not appear

Video #2: The Actions (duration 2:12) – A short review of some of the actions mentioned in the book to achieve the objectives. Solving the water challenge, finding new land for production, urban farming, hydroponics, farming the desert, rebuilding fisheries and developing aquaculture further are all possibilities.

or click here if video does not appear

Video #3: The Questions (duration 3:08) – A sample of some of the questions raised in the book. They cover technology, land deals in Africa, improving yields, restoring soil fertility, change in consumer needs, organic farming, risks of conflicts, biofuels or meat are some of the topics presented.

or click here if video does not appear

If you know someone who could be interested by the topics on this page, please pass it on!


Environmental performance on labels: it is coming. Really.

October 29, 2009

Sweden has started presenting the carbon footprint of food on the labels for food products sold in supermarkets and on some restaurant menus. The Swedish National Food Administration is managing this program.

I was announcing this trend to inform consumers about the environmental impact of the food they consume, and as an aid to make their eating choices, in my earlier articles “Environmental performance on foods labels” and “The dining of the future“.

Here is the link to the article from fis.com with more details on how some food items, such as fish, beef, chicken or pork, perform.


The vertical farm

October 26, 2009

Here is a think-out-of-the-box article about the “vertical farm”.

It is an interesting vision of a replacement of agricultural land, by indoor robot-tended hydroponic agriculture. They also envision the possibility of raising farm animals and developing aquaculture in the water used to grow the plants; and the fish waste would be used as fertilizer.

All of this would be grown in a 30-floor skyscraper located in the city, powered by the energy coming from city sewage, and the ground floor would be a food supermarket that would provide food for 50,000 people.

Such projects are under review in Abu Dhabi, South Korea, Seattle, WA and Las Vegas, NV.

It looks like science-fiction, yet there are some really interesting arguments in favor of such a development.


Educating the consumer – Nutritional information only is not enough

October 15, 2009

Last week a survey was published in the US about whether fast food customers were using nutritional information to make their choice. The result was that although they could read how many calories their meal would include, they did not choose for a healthier lower calorie meal.

Apparently, this was a shocker. It was not to me, and this for a couple of simple reasons. First, people do not go to a fast food restaurant to nibble on a knackebrod. Secondly, information disclosed is never enough to make people change their habits, especially if they have a craving for what they buy. Otherwise, why do some people still smoke when they can read in big letters on the pack that it will kill them?

Parents play a crucial role in getting good eating habits

Parents play a crucial role in getting good eating habits

If we want to make people change their eating habits, information is necessary, but by far not sufficient. When it comes to food, we are dealing with many complex issues that have to do with psychology and with taste and a behaviour that we have acquired at a very young and developed as we grow up in the environment that our parents have provided. Further, we all know how skillfully marketing has use these psychological “weaknesses”.

In the US, there is currently quite a debate on health care and obesity is one of the main issues. In many ways, our eating habits are a reflection of our life style and of our society, as I have mentioned in my article “If we are what we eat, what will we eat in the future?” Therefore, trying to induce a change in our eating habits can only succeed if we make broader changes in the way we live.

Next to information, what consumers need is education. Unless they have an understanding of what the data they get really means, how can we expect them to act upon it?

Teaching children about nutrition will help them eat properly

Teaching children about nutrition will help them eat properly

We need to teach children about the basics of nutrition and of metabolism as early as possible, and this education must include their parents, too. There is no big mystery behind what causes obesity, diabetes and other food excesses related ailments. It is quite easy to explain what functions the different food groups fill and how to compose healthy meals, as it is really just a matter of adding up and keeping the right proportions.

It would be highly useful to educate everyone about where food comes from and how it is produced. A program like “Know your food, know your farmer” introduced in the US is useful, but “Know your farming” is just as needed.

What parents also need to understand is that it is their duty to give their children a balanced diet, although it might mean that they, too, should have one, but most importantly, when it comes to decide what is on the table, the children do not dictate what they want simply based on what they like.

Education, though, goes much further than just parents and schools, and retailers, restaurants and the agribusiness need to co-operate more than they currently do, even though some are more active than others in this field. If we want to solve a society problem, the whole society must participate. It is rather interesting to see how the meat industry in the US is reacting to the proposal of a meat-free Monday in school cafeterias. I can understand the resistance to government intervention in telling how people should feed themselves, although when this leads to many health issues, one could argue that if the people cannot make the right choices, maybe someone else should set stricter rules to help them. I also can understand that such a meat-free Monday is a bit threatening to the meat industry, as it means (a tiny little) bit less business in the short-term and maybe quite a bit more if it meant that the next generation might cut on meat consumption. On the other hand, what the meat industry in developed countries needs to realize is that there are plenty of people in other countries who are longing for meat, and these new markets have more than the potential to replace the volumes lost in their domestic markets.

Another great source of information is consumers’ organizations, like the ones I know in Europe. They are independent and they provide many surveys and comparisons on consumer products. They have been very useful in helping consumers gain more awareness about what they consume. Unfortunately, such open and objective information is not directly available in all countries and this is a weakness in the fight for health.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


More action needed on food waste

October 5, 2009

Food waste is one of those topics that rarely make the headlines while the numbers that come out surveys are simply stunning.

40% of food production does not reach the plate

40% of food production does not reach the plate

Five years ago, the University of Arizona had published a report about the situation in the USA. Their estimate of food waste was almost that 50% of the food produced in the US never gets eaten. Although some losses are inevitable in the supply chain, their report estimated that 14% of the food bought but American households are thrown away, and even 15% of that amount is sent to garbage without even being opened. Not only, this is lost food that could have even eaten, but also the environmental impact of food waste is far from negligible. According to the University of Arizona research, cutting half of the food waste would reduce the environmental impact by 25%, because of reduced landfill use, soil depletion and application of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Recent USDA studies indicate a level of 25% of food that never reaches a plate.

In the UK, research by the government’s waste reduction agency, WRAP, found that one third of all food bought in Britain is thrown away – of which half is edible! I read an amazing statement from Liz Goodwin, WRAP’s chief executive in a 2007 article from The Guardian: ‘If we stopped the amount [of food waste] that we could stop, it would be the same as taking one fifth of cars off the road.’  About a third of the food waste in the UK comes from households, food manufacturers account for about 20%, food service and restaurants for about 15%, and retailers just under 10%.

In Australia, it is estimated that food waste makes up half of that country’s landfill!

At the global level, estimates of food going wasted are that over half of the food produced globally is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain, finds a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme released in early 2009.

According to UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet.” This statement is a nice illustration of what I was presenting in my article The transition from a consumption society towards a maintenance society.

Let’s check if this is correct:
Today’s food production being 100 with waste of 40%, means that we actually consume 60. FAO claims that food production needs to increase by 70% to meet the needs of the population in 2050. This means available food must be 60 x 1.70 = 102, compared with 100 gross production currently. With no waste, Achim Steiner statement sounds consistent and correct!

If this is not food for thought, I do not know what is. Nonetheless, this is definitely a part of what we need to address for the future of food supply.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


How sustainable is “sustainable”?

October 2, 2009

The more as read about new certified sustainable foods sources, the more I start to wonder about how really sustainable they are. As I have mentioned before, I believe that sustainability is the only way forward because, per definition, what is not sustainable has no future, but I am beginning to have doubts about the credibility of some certification schemes.

There are two things bothering me:

  1. I thought that I had heard something about fisheries collapsing all over the world, but it sounds like more and more seafood is sustainable, and in such quantities that large retailers can offer it. Almost every week there is at least one new certified fishery and many more to come from what I hear. Does this really add up?
  2. Sustainable foods seem to follow the same logic as the consumption society that has brought us in such trouble already. The message seems to be: consume more of it because it is sustainable! I just miss the “consume with moderation” message.

Clearly, certifying sustainable food is a business, and definitely a big business growing further. Moreover, the more food programs certified, the more captive audit customers, therefore the more revenue, it produces.

In addition, it is very clear that there is a lot more “green” talk in business and marketing than actual improvement, at this stage.

Sustainability is a very serious matter, and therefore it is of the utmost importance that certification standards are above any suspicion. Only their credibility will allow us to make the proper progress towards a better future.

Funding and accountability to consumers are two important tools to guarantee such high standards and integrity. I like France’s Label Rouge model, because certification is carried out and supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture, therefore funded and accountable to the French people, their consumers.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Sustainability: A land of confusion?

September 17, 2009

The more I read and hear about sustainability, the more confused I get about what the people making statements about it really mean, if they mean anything at all.

Very clearly, everyone now goes sustainable or green or whichever other term they choose. It is almost as if sustainability is a completely new revolutionary concept. No, it is not. That was the way people lived for ages, before we started thinking that we did not have to live by Nature’s laws. Yes, in the old times people would repair their socks instead of throwing them away. What were they thinking?

Two things really worry me about the current sustainability approach. The first one is companies appointing one person in charge of sustainability. Can sustainability be a separate entity in an organization or has what should be our most basic thinking been so forgotten that someone needs to reinvent it? I do not think so. Sustainability is everyone’s concern and if there is a CSO (S for you know what), it should be the person at the very top, imposing sustainability thinking to every employee in the company. This topic is too important to delegate. The second one is how quickly businesses that have shown some serious deficiencies in the sustainability area now come out very quickly with all sorts of announcement and even certification proving how well they are doing. Of course, on the other hand, there are the market watchers claiming that some of these claims are not true.

For instance, I am getting more and more confused by how quickly, and almost on a weekly basis, restaurants and supermarkets are able to source sustainable seafood. As such, this is great news. Yet, it makes me even wonder if there indeed was an overfishing problem. Something just does not quite add up.

There are those who seem to reduce sustainability in food production to organic or to small farms, almost as if the Amish way, with all due respect for the Amish, is the only way forward. I disagree with this rather reductionist thinking. I believe that with all the technology that we currently have, we can be sustainable and modern.

Therefore, for those who, like me, are confused about what they hear and read, here are a few statements about how I think about the subject, and I hope that they are not confusing to you.

  1. Per definition, what is not sustainable has no future. Therefore, just do it, instead of talking how you would do it.
  2. Everything that continuously depletes a source of our basic essential needs is not sustainable. Think about it before depletion reaches the point of no return!
  3. Everything that continuously increases the level of harmful components in what we breathe, drink or eat is not sustainable. Think about it before increasing water, air, soil and food pollution!

It is just this practical.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.