The most powerful tool in the global shed: moving to a food systems paradigm

AgriEducate attended the Crawford Fund Conference in Canberra last month, which covered the nexus of agriculture, food, nutrition and health. Christine Freak is a passionate development ag writer and policy thinker, and was one of the AgriEducate representatives at the conference. Christine has put together the following article, exploring the biggest lever in the shed to help improve nutrition, environment and food security. Enjoy! 

“In the Anthropocene, agriculture is the biggest lever humans can pull”

– Andrew Campbell.

So what does this mean?

For centuries, agriculture has been at the heart of societies across the world. Not only does agriculture provide a means to subsistence, but it defines livelihoods, is essential to health and well-being, forms the basis of trade, is an essential part of culture and traditions, forms gender roles and ultimately shapes the human relationship with Earth. Since agriculture is so fundamental, it is inextricably linked to multiple facets of human life. This means that our approach to managing the global food system must consider and support these linkages through a systems approach. So, what this really means is that agriculture is a very powerful tool in the shed. If agriculture can influence and shape health, environmental, livelihood and gender issues, then agriculture can be an incredibly powerful tool which we can harness to overcome some of the greatest challenges of our time.

The world is facing the challenge of how we can feed a population of 9 billion people by 2050. There has been much talk about how this can be done from the production side, with estimates that global food production will need to double to match the growing demand. There are estimates that the world will need to produce more food in the next 50 years, than in the entire history of mankind together. There is optimism about how this can be done. As Andrew Campbell explains “Agricultural Science has shown it can respond to very big challenges, very effectively”. We have seen through the Green Revolution that technological advancements have great potential for agricultural development to increase yields and improve crop resilience. But, as Robyn Alder explains, “In agriculture, we have made mistakes with good intentions… we thought we could do it [achieve food security] with yields and productivity, but we now realise it’s much more complex”. So, alongside the optimism that agricultural science can address these big challenges, there remains a further step to bridge production advancements to consumption gains, and reach positive overall development outcomes.

The next step towards meeting this challenge, is recognising that given the complexity and interlinkages of food security, a paradigmatic shift is needed to a systems approach. Andrew Campbell explained at this year’s conference that agriculture can respond to these contemporary challenges, but “we’re not going to do it with the same paradigm” as we have in the past. Andrew Campbell explains that this new approach needs to have a food systems perspective, and be tailored to deliver against the Sustainable Development Goals. After all, agriculture is said to be the most effective means to poverty reduction, and is linked to every one of the Sustainable Development Goals!

So, how do we make such a shift?

1) Look to nutrition (demand) rather than simply production (supply)

What is referred to as “The Nutrition Challenge” spans the ‘triple burden’ of food insecurity: malnutrition, over nutrition (obesity), and micronutrient deficiencies (particularly iron and vitamin A). Today, the food insecurity landscape has:

  • 816 million people suffering from acute hunger
  • 2 billion people overweight or obese
  • 2 billion people with micronutrient deficiencies

Clearly, productivity alone (whilst incredibly valuable in its own right) is not the issue. Consumption and distribution remain as two crucial facets of our response to the global food security challenge.

2) Implications for Agricultural Science and the need to address transdisciplinary challenges with multidisciplinary solutions

Taking a systems approach, means new collaborations and partnerships will be required with the multiple actors involved. This spans the full length of the supply chain, from the agricultural sector who provide the inputs and outputs; to the financial sector who trade on markets and invest in the agricultural sector and new technologies, the public sector who regulate food access, availability and utilisation, and implement public health policies; the education sector who communicate valuable knowledge about agricultural production and nutrition consumption; and the health sector who promote and manage nutrition and health outcomes at the individual level. Afterall, 5% of global GDP comes from primary production, but this figure soars to 30% of global GDP if the whole food system is considered in its entirety.

Within academia, the response to the transdisciplinary challenges requires multidisciplinary collaborations and partnerships. The global food system does not fit within any one academic box. Andrew Campbell explained that “we now need to think about how agriculture works with public health, and re-conceive interdisciplinary”. Robyn Alders puts the call out – “Nutritionists we really need your help”. We need to identify the opportunities many other disciplines present to contribute to knowledge of the global food system.  Robyn Alders explains that every discipline has vital contributions to this challenge – “Historians and philosophers have a contribution”. We have seen in the AgriEducate Essay Competition that it is possible for these disciplines to come together, and how every discipline offers a unique lens to approach our food challenges. What now needs to happen is for these lenses to come together to achieve our visions for a global food system.

It is important in this interdisciplinary space, to not only be able to speak our own languages, but to learn to work with others. This will see unprecedented collaborations and partnerships formed to tackle the thread which spans all disciplines and links all aspects of human life – our food system. But just as importantly, as Colin Charters wraps up, “the solutions to these challenges are going to come from transdisciplinary solutions, but they are going to come from disciplinary excellence”. We need to “really knuckle down into our disciplines” and then be able to work with colleagues in theirs. We must learn our own languages, and learn the languages of others.

3) policy implications

Andrew Campbell discusses governance for the Anthropocene within food systems. Humans are now changing the basic biogeochemical cycles of the planet, and exceeding some planetary boundaries already. On-going environmental changes will challenge governments, industries and communities. What is needed is policy convergence across the multiple and interlinked challenges, which spans multiple actors and sectors.

One particular issue for the nutrition challenge is that nutrition falls in a crevice between agriculture and health, as Dr Lindiwe Sibanda’ highlighted at the 2017 Crawford Fund Conference. There is no ministry for nutrition in national governments, in the same way that there are ministries for agriculture and for health. This year, Robyn Alders reiterated this point, stating “until they overlay, we are not going to get there”. So as Lindiwe suggests in 2017, “it’s these two communities coming together” and “the two languages have to meet somewhere”.

This is where the idea of Smart Foods becomes important. These are foods which are good for you, good for the planet, and good for the farmer. Part of this smart food agenda focus means looking beyond the ‘Big 3” (wheat, maize and rice). As Dr Alessandro Demaio explains, “whilst there is a fixation on fixing consumption on a few key species, we often forget to look at the diversity of foods which are available, and by enhancing these we can enhance biodiversity in our ecosystems”. Joanna Kane-Potaka explained how there are valuable gains by diversifying food production, both for agro-biodiversity, nutritional diversity, and for risk mitigation in ensuring production which is sustained and resilient to climate variations. Joanna Kane-Potaka shows that finger millet has three times the calcium of milk, is high in vitamins and zinc, but can also be grown with minimal fertilisers and requires much less water. This presents a valuable opportunity as a smart food which has previously been overlooked in favour of ‘big 3’ staple crops or cash crops. Robyn Alders identifies that “market signals are about quantity and volume; they were not selected for nutritional capacity”. Now is the time we see the value of diversity in crop selection, as a vital part of preserving biodiversity and nutritional diversity.

We can also look at how our policy responses can target multiple policy objectives, given the fundamental and interlinked position agriculture has with other sectors, such as the environmental and human health. Dr Alessandro Demaio points out that “food systems are at the heart of the SDG agenda” and “food is a great driver of achieving all the SDGs at once”.  This is consistent with Glenn Denning who explains      “don’t think of nutrition as a social welfare program, but an economic development program”. This is for the multiplier effects agriculture has outside of the immediate field. However, Dr Demaio also points out that “the SDGs are complex and complicated; to the point they sound confusing”. One way to breakdown this challenge is to look to the single biggest lever which we can pull which spans these multiple complexities – agriculture.  Agriculture offers unprecedented opportunities to achieve some of the greatest global challenges – as Dr Alessandro Demaio summarises – “The biggest opportunity we have is our food”.

Yet there are still a number of challenges in shaping this policy convergence to be able to use the lever of agriculture across many global challenges. For one, as Robyn Alders addresses, “at the end of the day, if it’s not financially sustainable, no farmer can stay in their business”. Further, she explains that “sometimes you have to face the hard reality that what you’re proposing” is not suitable to the most vulnerable populations. This is particularly evident in the shifts to cash cropping in many parts of the world, which presented mixed results for local incomes and nutrition. We also must ensure that whilst we look to a global food system, that we understand how food systems operate on a local and farm level, and tailor our approaches as necessary. As Dr Anna Okello explains, “we cannot deny that these systems are different, and therefore require different solutions to mitigate”. The reality is we cannot compare western meat consumption with those in sub-saharan Africa, as the choices which underpin production and consumption patterns are not equivalent. We must tailor our approaches locally, within a broader global food system.

So what does this lever mean?

In summary, the global food system is complex, has multiple actors and has vast linkages to other sectors. However, this complexity is not only a challenge, but offers valuable opportunities to address global challenges, both within and beyond the agricultural field. So to answer our initial question, perhaps this is what is meant by one of our top quotes from Andrew Campbell: “In the Anthropocene, agriculture is the biggest lever humans can pull”.

 

 

Crawford Fund Conference 2018: Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition – The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus

AgriEducate attended the Crawford Fund Conference in Canberra last month, which covered the nexus of agriculture, food, nutrition and health. Christine Freak is a passionate development ag writer and policy thinker, and was one of the AgriEducate representatives at the conference. Christine has put together the following article, reflecting on some of the key take away messages and themes that emerged. Enjoy! 


This year’s Crawford Fund Conference took a look into a very pressing issue for agricultural development, and global development itself – nutrition.  The 2018 conference, “Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition – The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus”, looked beyond the production side of agriculture, to explore consumption. Agriculture is at the heart of all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With these interrelationships and foundations, improvements in agriculture can have enormous impacts for global development.

For decades, the focus of developing agriculture and food systems was on quantity of production, not necessarily quality for consumption and nutritional needs. This turned focus towards increasing productivity, in a global effort to meet growing food demand spurred by the increasingly growing world population. It is fair to say that these efforts were largely successful, with increasing yields, new crop varieties, and new technologies of the Green Revolution leading to unprecedented quantities of food production, a doubling of the global average life expectancy since 1900, and a halving of the proportion of the global population deemed hungry since 1969. As a result, farmers around the world now produce enough calories to feed the entire 7,650,009,529 (and growing) of us on Earth.

However, now comes the recognition that food security is about more than just meeting demand, but about nourishment too. Despite the production of sufficient calories, the distribution, quality, diversity, and availability of food has created the triple burden of undernourishment, over-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. Whilst food has been a major driver of global development historically, it is now one of our greatest challenges.

As described by Dr Alessandro Demaio, “We live in a very complex situation where we have hunger and obesity living in the same household”.

On the one side of this paradox:

  • 155 million children stunted
  • 52 children are wasted
  • 2 billion people lack key micronutrients like iron and vitamin A

Yet, on the other:

  • 2 billion adults overweight or obese
  • 41 million children overweight

As a result, 88% of countries face a serious burden of either two or three forms of malnutrition, and the world is off track to meet all global nutrition targets.

It is now clear that the successes of the past decades are only the first step. As Dr Alessandro Demaio expresses:

“Food has shifted from something which brought such gains [to global development]…. But we now find ourselves in a situation in global history where food is the single greatest threat to human health”

The next step for global food security is nutrition security. This view looks beyond simple measures of calorie intake, particularly of the ‘big-3’ staple crops (wheat, maize and rice) and recognises the diversity and distribution of crop production which is necessary to foster human development. Professor Robyn Alders AO summarised eloquently:

“In agriculture, we have made mistakes with good intentions… we thought we could do it [achieve food security] with yields and productivity, but we now realise it’s much more complex”.

This complexity arises given the human face of agriculture. The complexity is deepened by the many actors involved, complex supply chains, the interrelated components which shape the nexus, the many disciplines required to respond, and delicate transitions required to address these issues. Australia has enormous expertise in agriculture. This is certainly an area where we can do more than our bit for global development.

The nutrition nexus is not only a concern of the developing world, but now presents as a challenge for all nations. The triple burden of malnutrition means that addressing nutrition concerns both under-nutrition (malnourishment, stunting, wasting), and over-nutrition (obesity, and lifestyle/dietary related diseases).  At the crux of this new agenda for food security, is the nexus of Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health – a nexus eloquently explored at this year’s conference.

If the entirety of the multiple questions grappled at this year’s conference could be collated into one question, it would be something along the lines of:

What are the best ways for agriculture and the food industry to help promote healthier diets taking into account the opportunities and constraints discussed above? Can it be achieved, what behaviours have to change and what policy levers are needed to assist?

 In response to this core question, AgriEducate has developed a range of articles to tackle this complex question.

As a quick summary, here are our key take-away messages:

  • Agriculture is at the heart of all the Sustainable Development Goals
  • The ‘Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus’ means we need to take a systems approach – Given the intersections and dependencies which exist within the nexus, we can no longer see agriculture in isolation from human health and environmental challenges.
  • Dietary diversity means we need to look beyond the ‘big-3’ (wheat, rice, maize) – agricultural production has tended to focus on monoculture production with economies of scale. But, with the need for dietary diversification, greater emphasis is now needed across a spectrum of crops for greater access to nutrients.
  • The solutions to these complex multidisciplinary challenges are going to come from transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches and collaborations, as well as disciplinary expertise.

For more information on each of these key messages, check out the below articles for an in-depth look into these key themes!

With these challenging ideas about the complex nexus of agriculture, food, nutrition and health, we think we’re best to finish off with the eloquent summary by the winner of the AgriEducate top 10 quotes from this years conference –  Robyn Alders:

“Nutrition can do lots for physical and cognitive wellbeing, but it can also just make us happy”

In-depth thematic focus articles

Moving to a food systems paradigm

How can agriculture be the biggest lever humans can pull in the anthropocene to ameliorate environmental, nutritional and food security issues?

 

The next-gen in development ag: meet some 2018 Crawford Fund Scholars

Guy and Christine, from the AgriEducate team, had the fantastic opportunity to attend and report on the Crawford Fund Conference, delving into all aspects of nutrition, health, food security and the nexus with agriculture. Part of the Crawford Fund Conference program involves 44 scholars from around the country, some of the brightest minds in the development ag space. Here’s just a brief look into why they chose agriculture, development agriculture and how they are applying their knowledge to benefit food production globally!

First up we have Cooper!

Academic Discipline: Environmental Science – beekeeping for community development in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands

Cooper.pngSo, how did the passion for agriculture begin? Where you born into it, or was it something you discovered over time?

It came through an understanding that the best way to help those in developing nations is through agriculture. I was always interested in the environment, beekeeping and traveling and working in international agricultural research allowed for a fulfilling way to contribute and give back to local communities.

In what ways can you apply your academic background to the agricultural sector, and development agriculture globally?

My studies at Southern Cross University have given me a broad range of practical and professional skills – the ability to conduct research and coordinate projects, working independently and with people in teams under pressure. It has helped me to express and present my concerns, ideas and research passions more clearly, thoughtfully, and critically.

From your experiences, what is either your ‘best story’ or ‘favourite fact’ about agricultural development and global food security?

That poverty is not a fate, it’s not someone’s misfortune, it’s not an accident. It’s a condition. Overcoming poverty is not gesture of charity, it’s the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to a healthy happy life and dignity.

If you could change or improve one thing about agriculture or even just one thing in the world what would it be? Try and be specific!

An increased understanding on the significant role our pollinators play in food security presently and into the future! No trees, no bees, no honey, no money!

And lastly, what’s something completely non-ag related that you love?

Surfing, diving, camping and painting!

Thanks Cooper! Best of luck with the rest of your PhD.


Our next scholar interviewed found agriculture as a way of satisfying a need to help people, environment and communities around the world! Here’s Rebekah Ash’s take on our questions:

Academic Discipline: Agricultural Science

To start off, how did the passion for agriculture begin? Where you born into it, or was it something you discovered over time? 

My passion for agriculture has been a developing process for many years, however, it was not until the beginning of last year that I was able to pinpoint agriculture as the area that would allow me to act on my values and endeavours. Growing up in the Brisbane metropolitan area, it is fair to say that I was never directly exposed to agriculture and quite frankly, I too had a warped idea of agriculture alongside many city dwellers today. Throughout my adolescent years I thrived off leadership, travel, the environment and foreign aid. I would spend every spare second involving myself in a variety of community groups that would pitch ideas to improve sustainability in our local community, lend a helping hand, fundraise for a number of causes or simply get outdoors and appreciate the world around us. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find a career path that satisfied all of these areas… I had thought about medicine and doctors without borders but still, this did not provide me a chance to act on my passion for our environment. So how did I stumble upon agriculture and discover its importance to our environment rather than its harm? Funnily enough my father is in the agricultural science sector and so I began to look into the course outline for agricultural science at UQ and needless to say I was blown away… all these years I’d thought that the agricultural field was a basic industry ignorant to the needs of a sustainable future but this was telling me that the change and work needed for our future starts and rises at agriculture. As I began to research more into the agricultural science everything began to fall into place. How can we feed our growing population? Agriculture. How can we reduce poverty and malnutrition? Agriculture. How can we reduce human impacts on our environment? It starts at agriculture. All of a sudden agriculture opened up as a field in my eyes that allows for leadership in international development discussing some of the most pivotal challenges to overcome in our society in terms of food security and sustainability. From that point on, I haven’t looked back and my passion continues to grow every day. I’m at the very beginning of my career in agricultural science and thoroughly look forward for the many years to come in this field.

In what ways can you apply your academic background to the agricultural sector, and development agriculture globally? 

I am at the very beginning of my career and therefore I still have so much to learn. At this stage, my academic background allows me to understand the shear significance and importance around agriculture and our future. I am beginning to learn how we can tackle big issues such as closing the yield gap via new technologies and a coexistence of livestock systems that reduces poverty and provides financial security while minimising the footprint of these systems. Finally, my academic background allows me to pitch the endeavours of agricultural science with an educated view to help change the warped view many have in an urbanised world.

From your experiences, what is either your ‘best story’ or ‘favourite fact’ about agricultural development and global food security? 

Approximately 78% of the rural poor (approx. 800 million people) depend on agriculture to make a living. They provide food for our growing population but barely have enough to feed themselves. Agriculture is one of the most powerful tools for raising poor peoples’ incomes hence, it is a major area for development.

If you could change or improve one thing about agriculture or even just one thing in the world what would it be? Try and be specific!

Definitely the perception of agriculture by the urbanised world. As agricultural scientists we understand the importance and significance of agriculture for our future, however, without the wider community’s support, we cannot act to the greatest of our potential.

What’s something completely non-ag related that you love?

Spontaneous travel! I absolutely love jumping into a new culture and surroundings. My favourite way to explore is hiking and being involved with the local community. Learning about another culture allows you to understand how others find happiness in their life creating more doors for growth, appreciation and happiness in your own life.

Thanks Rebekah!


We’ll be updating these with more interviews over the coming weeks, so check our feeds and check back here regularly!

Crawford Fund Conference 2018: Top 10 Quotes

Part of the AgriEducate team Christine (@christinefreak1) and Guy (@geezacoleman) had the pleasure of attending the Crawford Fund 2018 Conference: Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition – The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus. 

For those after a bit of background, here’s an article we wrote in the lead up to the event describing the importance integrating agriculture, food, nutrition and health.

Featuring some enthralling presentations from global researchers, policy experts, social entrepreneurs, farmers and politicians, there were so many fantastic quotes it was hard to pick the top 10. So without further ado here they are. Do you agree? Let us know if your favourites made the cut!

10

“Governments such as PNG are dealing with 50% of children with undernutrition while trying to manage 14% of children who are overweight”

Dr Jessica Fanzo

9

“We live in a very complex situation with the coexistence of hunger and obesity in the same household, city and region. Policy makers will need to adapt to this challenge”

Dr Alessandro Demaio

8

“We have to use all the tools in the toolkit, with good governance, good design, and good risk management”

Professor Andrew Campbell

7

“Don’t think of nutrition as a social welfare program, but an economic development program”

Professor Glenn Denning

6

“I couldn’t think of a better investment for our dollar than helping these young people do great things”

The Hon. Julie Bishop MP

5

“More perspectives is exactly what we need to address the challenges [in agriculture] we have been discussing”

Professor Maggie Gill

4

“The biggest opportunity we have is our food”

Dr Alessandro Demaio

3

“Nutrition, along with climate change, is the meta challenge for agriculture, and agricultural and food systems research, this century”

Professor Andrew Campbell

2

“All our achievements are thanks to farmers, and those who get food to us”

Professor Robyn Alders

1

“Nutrition can do lots for physical and cognitive wellbeing, but it can also just make us happy”

Professor Robyn Alders


Agriculture is a pathway to helping many people, environments and societies, so in the words of the #1 quote from the 2017 Crawford Fund Conference:

“if you want to solve a lot of the world’s issues, start working with a farmer”

Stuart Higgins

 

The nutrition nexus: how nutrition redefines health, community and economic development

 

“Nutrition is both a maker and a marker of development. Improved nutrition is the platform for progress in health, education, employment, empowerment of women and the reduction of poverty and inequality, and can lay the foundation for peaceful, secure and stable societies.”

Ban Ki-moon, United Nations 8th Secretary General, a message for the SUN Movement Strategy and Roadmap (2016-2020)

Nutrition has emerged as a key topic for sustainable small holder farming and agriculture development around the world. And not without reason. But surely food security is just about growing enough food right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Here we’ll look at an overview of nutrition and agriculture and get you ready for the Crawford Fund Conference in just a few days.

First some key definitions. These areas are often confused, given the similarities in naming and often indiscriminate use:

Malnutritionrefers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. The term malnutrition covers 2 broad groups of conditions. One is ‘undernutrition’—which includes stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height), underweight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals). The other is overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer).”

Stuntingrefers to a child who is too short for his/her age. Stunting is the failure to grow both physically and cognitively and is the result of chronic or recurrent malnutrition. Its effects often last a lifetime”

Wastingrefers to a child who is too thin for his/her height. Wasting is the result of sudden or acute malnutrition, where the child is not getting enough calories from food and faces an immediate risk of death.”

Overweight “refers to a child who is too heavy for his/her weight. It is the result of an imbalance in calories consumed and calories expended and can lead to lifetime consequences.”

Sources: WHO and UNICEF

It is important to note that the prevalence of stunting (chronic malnutrition) has declined as shown below. However, stunting continues to present itself as a serious issue in places where a drive for economic development has pushed aside traditional diverse subsistence farming crops. For example, a family living off maize porridge as a predominant meal may feel satisfied and consume sufficient number of calories, yet the maize porridge lacks the necessary micro nutrients for healthy development and healthy living.

At the Crawford Fund Conference in 2017, Dr Lindiwe Sibanda spoke about this issue. Dr Sibanda told the story of her grandmother’s production diverse farm and how her brother’s transition to full maize production as a cash crop left the family with enough calories yet insufficient nutrient diversity. In a poor year under the diverse production system, the family had access to a broad range of fruits, grains, legumes and animal products, so while money may have been unavailable, the food accessibility was good. On the other hand, under a cash crop monoculture system, a poor year results in lack of funds for purchase of food and purely maize-based recipe variations for day-to-day living.

Furthermore, the chart above shows the clear rise in overweight and obese children. This obesity epidemic is not just limited to developed countries, but presents health professionals with serious issues in countries around the world.

Recognising the importance of nutrition, the Crawford Fund has positioned its 2018 Conference to target the intersection of agriculture, food and nutrition and the respective impacts on health: “Reshaping Agriculture for: Better Nutrition: the Agriculture, Food, Nutrition and Health Nexus.”

“A simplistic calculation of global food needs based on population growth and calorific requirements to satiate hunger tells only part of, or a misleading, story. Rather, we need to look at what are the outcomes sought in terms of health, what agriculture needs to produce to provide the kinds of diet that will lead to these outcomes, what combination of factors and technologies needs to align to support dietary change and, as part of that mix, how can we adapt to deliver sufficient, nourishing food in a sustainable manner.”

– Crawford Fund conference overview

So stay tuned to our various communication channels as we report back on the latest information and opinions from leading nutrition, agriculture and development experts from around the world. Kicking off Monday night with the John Crawford Memorial Address by Frances Adamson, Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

AgriEducate is heading to the Crawford Fund Conference as a media partner. We’ll be updating you live via Facebook and Twitter, with interviews, articles and discussion points to come. So stay tuned and don’t miss out on exciting developments!

Further reading:

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2016/06/09/feeding-the-ten-billion?fsrc=scn/li/te/bl/ed/feedingthetenbillionagriculturaltechnology

 

 

 

 

An Australian, Brazilian and Chilean walked into a bar in Rio, and discussed how best to feed the world…

The obscurity of food security,

not needing the maturity of the pituitary

but the vision of young revolutionaries

to achieve nutrition of many.

What does a poem have in connection with agriculture, you might ask? It seems strange that something indefatigably literary and unscientific may have any relevance to food security and helping farmers.

The answer, “oh but it’s about agriculture” is also rather unsatisfying and instead reveals more about the author’s abundance of spare time than any connection between the two topics.

So why then, does such an artistic and abstract outlet as slam poetry deliver such hope and promise for a global industry? It comes down to creativity and “multispectral thinking” to put it in the words of Christine Gould, Founder and CEO of Thought for Food. 

While the vision of these youth

Often uncut, passionate and uncouth,

May disturb the sickly, sweet smooth

Suits of a generation gone by.

Agriculture is no singularity of simple plant semantics. Its strength and importance lies in the interdisciplinary nature of growing food. Produce more food and you can help a local economy, but move completely to cash crops and you may leave a generation of children with malnutrition and stunted development. Expanding the scale of production, means improved scales of efficiency yet at a potential cost to environmental and production sustainability. On the other hand, balancing these concerns may improve the lives of 100s of millions of people and leave the planet in better shape than before.

And this is where poetry, multispectral thinking and agriculture align. Feeding the world sustainably requires creativity, abstract thinking and global connections. After all, we share the same goal of growing food, but have different perspectives and backgrounds on how to achieve just that.

The recently concluded Thought for Food Academy and Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil spoke directly to these requirements, inspiring and connecting over 200 passionate, young voices from more than 20 different countries. The Australian(s), Brazilian(s) and Chilean might have walked into the bar first, but were quickly followed by Colombians, English, Americans, Nigerians, Ghanaians, Indonesians, Indians and Chinese, who were themselves trailed by a group of French, Dutch, Russian, Jordanian and Botswanan attendees.

Yet it was not these country and language labels that defined us, but the shared desire to improve the livelihoods, sustainability and productivity of farmers around the world. This shared human connection was so eloquently and passionately described by Anthony Hehir of DSM, the entire audience was moved to tears. Anthony told the story of his videographer from China and a young Ugandan boy sharing a paper plane. “They shared absolutely nothing, except humanity. They had different cultures, languages, socioeconomic status, backgrounds, ages, experiences. Yet this sharing of knowledge on how to construct a paper plane brought them together.” Anthony then produced a paper plane he made that night in Uganda and launched it off the stage, inexplicably finding its way to the single Ugandan in the room, and a return journey to the country where it all began.

The Thought for Food Academy with its many sessions on farmer engagement, design thinking, creativity, biological science, investment, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and technology was that paper plane, uniting people around a shared humanity and passion for agriculture.

Just like the paper plane found its way back to Uganda, the TFF energy, innovation and passion found a home in everyone and returned to every country present, inspiring and connecting globally.

And this poem? Well it represents the multispectral thinking required in agriculture. We need to be creative, innovative and evidence-based in our solutions. Creativity isn’t just in writing or drawing. Creativity is a way we can, and must, approach some of the most pressing challenges of our time. It presents in developing new technologies, applying existing ones in new ways, studying interdisciplinary opportunities with renewed passion and critically, engaging with farmers and communities about these ideas. It is only with a creative approach, that we will get new and innovative outcomes.

So be positively destructive creatively, move fast and break things and maintain and build those global connections to bring about “agriculture 4.0”.

The idea their careers may overturn a generation of ideas

Is a fresh sound to the ears of those fears of food insecurity.

 

The Thought for Food (TFF) Challenge is an annual startup and ideas competition run from February through to May. It encourages people from around the world to pitch their ideas on how to address food security, for a chance at industry connections and a prize pool of USD20,000. The TFF Academy was held for the first time in 2018, building on the three-day summit of previous years, to provide attendees with more time for networking and learning about key issues and strategies to solve these issues. More information can be found here. The Founder of AgriEducate, Guy Coleman, attended the event as an Australian TFF Ambassador, feel free to get in contact via email for further information or comments.

First Place – Law: The Place of Law in the Australian Agricultural Industry

This essay was authored by Jordan Soresi (UWA) for the AgriEducate Essay Competition, winning first prize in the Law Category.Many thanks to Bailiwick Legal for supporting this competition category. The competition encouraged students from across the breadth of university degrees to apply their knowledge to agriculture and food security. More information on the competition can be found here. Each week we’ll be publishing one of the winning entries so stay tuned for more, or sign up to our monthly Newsletter so you don’t miss out!
I INTRODUCTION
‘There are no areas in life which are outside of law’. This quote by Aharon Barak aptly
describes the ability of the law to permeate every aspect of society. The agricultural
industry is no exception. Indeed, this essay will argue that there are opportunities for law to improve and grow the industry. Firstly, it will present ways in which legal theories can and are being applied to agricultural practice. It will then argue that the law can boost productivity and sustainability. Finally, it will show that better incorporating law into agriculture can help ensure global food security.

II LEGAL SKILLS AND THEORIES
There are opportunities to apply legal theories and skills to agriculture. The very existence of agricultural law as a discrete area evidences this. In agricultural law, theories of property, contract and torts reach a crossroads. Fundamentally, these legal skills are necessary in order to protect private property rights and ensure no one is illegitimately encroaching on one’s space; to ensure contractual obligations are fulfilled and discharged adequately; and to provide remedial avenues where there is no formal legal relationship. In addition to this, it is through law that the State regulates agricultural practice. Given the absolute importance of agriculture as a source of food, legal regulations are necessary to outline requirements of bio-safety and –security

III SUSTAINABILITY AND PRODUCTIVITY
Greater legal involvement in agriculture can enhance productivity and sustainability in
a number of ways. It can improve sustainability through the enhanced regulation of
animal welfare. The current state of regulations is a patchwork of inconsistent standards, which lack scientific grounding and transparency. Furthermore, they manifest an inherent conflict of interest. These standards are headed by government departments, which are in charge of both protecting animal welfare and physically growing the industry. Ultimately, the law can assist and resolve these issues in several ways. The Productivity Commission has suggested the creation of an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare. This would act as an independent statutory agency, which would be in charge of developing national standards and could develop clear objectives through transparent processes. The creation and maintenance of this proposed body, and its own development of evidence-based standards, are inherently legal in nature. The law is well versed in the establishment of such bodies and in the writing of their quasi-legislative materials. Thus, legal intervention would facilitate and enhance the sustainability of animal welfare in
agriculture.

Australia can develop a more productive agriculture industry through a greater emphasis on contract law in the space of new technologies. One example of this potential is seen in the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Bill 2015. Prior to the Bill’s enactment, large data and agribusiness companies would commonly enter standard-form (ie one-sided or non-negotiable) terms of agreement contracts with farmers over the use of digital farming technologies. Being non-negotiable and often containing terms that were not readily accessible or difficult to read, there was a manifest imbalance of power between the contracting parties. The new law is intended to protect small businesses from unfair contractual terms. Wiseman posits that it will simultaneously protect smaller farming businesses. In doing so, contracting farmers will have more control over the data being collected and better understand where it goes. This should encourage the farmers to work with data companies more enthusiastically, and equally to use new technologies. In turn, such technologies inevitably improve efficiencies and ultimate business productivity.

There is also potential for competition law to improve productivity. Producers in the agricultural supply chain are particularly susceptible to power imbalances because of vulnerabilities relating to perishable produce, climatic variation and limited infrastructure. This is exacerbated by the highly concentrated nature of the Australian market. By discouraging large companies with a lot of power from unduly interfering in the market, competition law works to improve efficiencies. Indicative of this are the Harper Review recommendations, some of which were enacted in 2017. The reformulation of s 46 to include an ‘effects’ test, for example, is directed at making it easier to address market power imbalances and empowering small producers to confront multinationals corporations. Through robust competition law, efficiencies and productivity can be boosted in the industry.

IV FOOD SECURITY
Greater legal involvement in agriculture worldwide can contribute to ensuring food security. This is because there is a strong correlation between the law and food security. In order to have a sustainable farm and grow food for themselves consistently, the world’s poorest people must be able to depend on agriculture as a viable and reliable source of income. In order to depend on their land, such farmers must have secure land rights, which equate to enforceable private property rights. This land security can only be achieved through the rule of law. After all, without it, governments can arbitrarily and illegitimately seize land. This leads to uncertainty and means that the poorest cannot use their land in a consistent and reliable manner to sustain themselves. Self-evidently, once someone has secure land rights, they can feel comfortable accessing and controlling their land. This empowers them to grow their own food and use that to generate income, some of which can be reinjected into the process to continue a sustainable cycle.

In addition to being capable of enforcing land rights, governments can use the law to create further frameworks, which support and improve their profitability. An example of this is a legal framework that compensates smallholder farmers and encourages growth. Encouraging people at the grassroots levels of society to partake in the lawmaking process also encourages knowledge of the rule of law to make the above outlined process a sustainable reality. Global food security is innately tied with the rule of law. In theory, by strengthening the latter, the former can consequently be achieved.

V CONCLUSION
The agricultural sector is essential to Australian society. Improving its efficiencies, productivity and sustainability is a long-term challenge. One way this can become reality
is by engaging the law. When considering agriculture globally, it is apparent that the law also has a significant part to play in securing food for the future.

From paddock to plate: The holistic application of anthropology in agricultural discourse

This essay was authored by Abby Georgeson for the AgriEducate Essay Competition, winning first prize in the Arts Category. The competition encouraged students from across the breadth of university degrees to apply their knowledge to agriculture and food security. More information on the competition can be found here. Each week we’ll be publishing one of the winning entries so stay tuned for more, or sign up to our monthly Newsletter so you don’t miss out!

The need for academic rigour in the agriculture industry is well established. However, few disciplines are as far-reaching in their use and effect as the field of anthropology. Grounded in the pursuit of understanding human behaviours and social relationships, anthropology reaps benefits that other fields fail to reach due to its broad gaze; while it can evaluate the abstract, business-related elements of agriculture, it can also be used to understand and promote the understanding of the practical, lived experiences of the individuals in the Australian agricultural industry. By virtue of its broad reach and methodological willingness to assimilate cross-disciplinary knowledge, anthropology must be appreciated as a valuable voice in discussions of productivity and sustainability in Australian agriculture and its place in global food security.

In terms of disciplinary skills, ethnographic fieldwork has been the classical domain of anthropology, allowing a close examination of the “intimacy” of social relationships (Appadurai, 1997:115). For agriculture, this means a wealth of detailed information about regional centers, farmers, corporations, and consumers, the composition of these groups, and the dynamics that emerge between them. Through the scope of the minutiae of life, the anthropologist extrapolates the lived realities of their subjects into the wider framework of ongoing social and historical processes, affecting both the local and the global. Accordingly, through anthropology, the current status and potential of Australian agriculture can be brought into focus.

There are numerous theses based on agricultural anthropology, touching on the countless forms, issues, and experiences of the industry. One ethnographic account of animal husbandry in North Carolina details the rise in ethical pig farming, and the ways that consumer interests alter industry practice; another, an interdisciplinary analysis of the reasons, means, and effects of indigenous timber extraction in Indonesia (Weiss, 2014; Ellen, 1985). Both represent fundamentally different perspectives of agricultural processes, and the environments and peoples implicated; nonetheless, the lessons of both can be applied to the Australian context and further towards the global food economy.

To demonstrate this, the topical issue of coal seam gas ventures in northern NSW will be used to showcase the methodological benefit of anthropology. In this, there is a large rift between those in favour for regional jobs growth through mining and those in favour of environmental protection and agricultural longevity. The case for both is clear, but without academic rationalisation, there is little room for reconciliation. With its objective stance and ready inclusion of indigenous and otherwise marginalised voices, anthropology holds great leverage in policy-making, holding the key to ongoing collaboration and constructive debate through its intermediary capacity.

Certainly, as stated on the AgriEducate website itself, an informed industry and
understanding on a wider societal level is paramount to the productivity and sustainability of the Australian agriculture industry. Through anthropology, such cooperation can be realised.

Another benefit of anthropology is that it dismantles the bounded categories of academia, favouring active engagement with the language and interests of multiple fields of enquiry in order to best represent the topic at hand.

This provides a unique opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration and with actors in the industry to identify and consider alternatives and future directions for Australian agriculture, in order to enhance productivity and sustainability in the face of looming global food security concerns. These two paradigms increasingly show themselves as going hand-in-hand, but disciplines that can handle this duality are a minority; only anthropology can synthesise these and situate them in a real-world context.

Herein, productivity can be measured and improved through careful analysis of the present situation of agriculture. An enlightening ethnographic account of a post-mining West Virginian township highlights this; it shows the real-world negative effects of industry collapse and the ways of life that have subsequently emerged (Stewart, 1996). While not related to productivity or sustainability discourse, by virtue of the vignette this account paints, it can serve as a basis for considering the present and future policy and planning directions in the region. With the input of information from other fields, it becomes a simple task for the anthropologist to assess the present and future requirements for enhancing productivity. Similarly, Australian agriculture could be treated anthropologically, generating change through consideration of the ontological experiences of related parties.

Likewise, sustainability is essential to contemporary Australian agriculture. Recently, much of the farming discourse in anthropology has centered on the consumer’s contribution to the changing face of agricultural practice. Amongst other reasons, ethics (Weiss, 2014; O’Kane & Yuliani Wijaya, 2015; DeLind, 2010) have increasingly played a role in shaping the sustainability narrative in agriculture. However, the sustainability paradigm of anthropology is not only social. In keeping with the dynamism of anthropology, the definition of “sustainable” incorporates all spheres of sustainable development and practice, be it economic, environmental, or industrial.

Additionally, by virtue of the ethnographic focus on the “local”, anthropology has also analysed some of the contemporary food security concerns pertinent to Australian society, such as the “Malthusian trap” generated by urban spread (Lang, 2010:1815). Significantly, discussions of productivity and sustainability, as well as recent analysis of global processes played out locally, anthropology is already contributing to the global food security debate. Admittedly, since anthropology is the “study of humans”, it does have an at times overwhelming social focus. However, the paradigms discussed here have all been grounded in posterity; all of the major considerations of agriculture, be it productivity, sustainability, or the global food network are founded with humans in mind. Accordingly, the thoroughly human pursuit of agriculture is ripe for analysis by an equally humanistic discipline.

As an aphorism in the field goes, “anthropology is the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanist of the sciences”. It’s assimilation of a broad scope of practices makes anthropology one of the most dynamic perspectives available to agriculture, encompassing everything from production to business and consumption. A sincere engagement of anthropology in this sector shows promise, due to its ability to provide synergistic proposals to improve the present condition of Australian agricultural productivity and sustainability, and envision its future in the global food economy.

References

AgriEducate website, viewed 30 May 2018, retrieved from

Appadurai, A. (1997). Discussion: Fieldwork in the Era of Globalization, Anthropology and Humanism, 22(1):115-118.

DeLind, L. (2010). Are local food and the local food movement taking us where we want to go? Or are we hitching our wagons to the wrong stars?, Agriculture and Human Values, 28:273-283.

Ellen, R.F. (1985). Patterns of indigenous timber extraction from Moluccan rain forest fringes, Journal of Biogeography, 12(6):559-587.

Lang, T. (2010). From ‘value for money’ to ‘values for money’? Ethical food policy in Europe, Environment and Planning A, 42:1814-1832.

O’Kane, G. & Yuliani Wijaya, S. (2015). Contribution of Farmers’ Markets to More Socially Sustainable Food Systems: A Pilot Study of a Farmers’ Market in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Australia, Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 39(10):1124-1153.

Stewart, K. (1996). “An Occupied Place” In Senses of Place, Feld, S. & Basso, K. (eds.). Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Trigger, D., Keenan, J., de Rijke, K., Rifkin, W. (2014). Aboriginal engagement and agreement-making with a rapidly developing resource industry: Coal seam gas development in Australia, The Extractive Industries and Society, 1(2):176-188.

Weiss, B. (2014). Eating Ursula, ​Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, 14(4):17-25.

The Role of Engineering in Agriculture: First Prize – Engineering

Steven Liu wrote this essay as part of the AgriEducate Essay Competition, winning first prize in the Engineering/IT category. For the full list of results please head over to the results page. Each week we’ll be featuring a new essay from the winning group of 15!

Since ancient Egyptian times, agriculture and engineering have worked together to feed humanity, enabling us to prosper. Through engineering, innovative technologies applied to agriculture have enabled farmers to become more efficient in terms of both land and labor. Engineering is the practice of applying scientific discoveries to real world situations, by creating new tools and ways of doing things. There are many different types of engineering, including mechatronic (mechanical and/or electronic) engineering, software engineering, chemical or biological engineering, and civil or structural engineering.

Mechatronic engineering is concerned with the interaction between artificial systems and the physical and natural environment. Mechatronic engineers work with manned and unmanned vehicles, from simple tractor-towed farming implements to complex autonomous agricultural robots. Existing systems such as the ACFR’s RIPPA[1] robot uses GPS and chlorophyll sensors and implements to destroy weeds, sow seeds and irrigate plants, enhancing labour productivity on farms and resource productivity by saving seed, fertiliser and herbicide. Reductions in resource consumption and solar power mean that these vehicles are environmentally sustainable. Research is currently directed at making mechatronic farming implements cheap and scalable enough to be accessible to all farmers, including in third world countries, to modernise agriculture and improve global food security. Other future opportunities for mechatronics engineering applied to agriculture include completely automatic agricultural robotics which could raise a crop from seed to harvest with minimal physical interaction from the farmer.

Software engineering is concerned with data storage and security. Within the scope of agriculture, software engineers help design data storage systems for record keeping of livestock. Blockchain technology is a current technology that provides the opportunity for vastly increased data security and availability. When applied to agriculture, blockchain based data storage could replace current physical records such as the NLIS with electronic records which are significantly more secure, failsafe and easy to manage. Blockchain works via distributed data storage, meaning there is no central point of failure. Within blockchain, smart contracts and other tools can be used to allow farmers to process transactions of both funds and livestock with greater transparency, less risk, and improved productivity. In a blockchain-integrated world, transparent access to consumer data could provide better marketing opportunities for farmers, increasing the efficiency of food distribution.

Chemical and biological engineering refers to technologies such as genetic modification. These techniques have already been employed in crops such as BT cotton, and will continue to play an integral role in Australian agriculture. Currently, the TALEN[2] gene modification technique allows plant crops including cotton and wheat to be precisely genetically modified, enabling genetic advances against natural pests and diseases to be made. However in larger animals current genetic technologies including viral insertion have not been precise enough to be effective. With CRISPR technology, a new level of precision in gene editing is available; enabling genes to be added to larger livestock. This may lead to similar disease resistant species of cattle or sheep, or new species of animals which may produce hormones or other medicinal products, increasing the value of their production. In the future advanced genetic engineering could produce entire new species of animals which cause less environmental damage compared to traditional breeds by producing less gaseous waste and being more nutrient efficient, increasing sustainability. Breeding of hardier animals more tolerant to extreme or poor conditions could also be accelerated by genetic engineering, increasing the landmass available for raising animals, improving food security.

Civil and structural engineering is crucial for developing infrastructure for transportation of agricultural goods. However modern structural engineering also enables the construction of large scale vertical gardens, which could revolutionise agriculture by providing a self-contained growing environment free from pests and weeds. Such structures could be placed in urban centres or have urban centres built around them, allowing farmers to escape social isolation in agricultural towns with ever decreasing populations. A vertical farm implemented by silicon valley company Plenty claims to multiply land productivity by 350x[3], and use only 1% of the water requirements of a traditional farm through recycling. Such vertical farms could be built in extremely arid areas at minimal costs for farmers, and vastly increase the amount of viable agricultural land, improving food security. Water use reduction also improves the sustainability of farms and their integration into existing natural ecosystems, reducing the pressure on natural waterways.

Aerospace and space engineering includes the development of UAV’s (unmanned Aerial Vehicles) as well as communications and imaging satellites. These can be used for remote monitoring of crops, as well as large scale imagery for planning and analysing farms. Communications satellites also enable technologies such as GPS-based automation and broadband to make urban comforts more available to farmers. UAV’s in particular are progressing towards higher weight limits and flight times, allowing them to be more useful in taking aerial photographs for data analysis, or for crop irrigating, crop spraying and animal herding. By providing low cost and high accuracy farm-scale imaging, farmers can better analyse and plan farm operations such as fertiliser operations, increasing productivity of limited farm resources and mitigate the environmental impact of agriculture. Additionally, by increasing the range and capabilities of automated agriculture, farmers can increase labour productivity. On a broader scale, better analysis of climatic trends using satellite data could help long-term planning in agriculture, leading to improved global food security.

Fundamentally, engineering is about using human ingenuity but working within the scope of the environment to solve problems. When applied to global food security, humanitarian engineering specialises in promoting agriculture in third world countries. In such cases the scale, level of technology, and environmental challenges are significantly different to those faced when improving existing agriculture. Humanitarian engineers work with minimal capital to provide simple yet effective systems to promote global food security; providing projects such as Engineers Without Borders Australia’s partnership with ATEC biodigesters[4] which provide a source of fertiliser as well as cooking gas from biowaste.

Overall, engineering will continue to facilitate and modernise agriculture, leading to increases in productivity and sustainability, helping farmers to feed the world.

References

1. University of Sydney (2017). Australian Centre for Field Robotics. https://sydney.edu.au/engineering/our-research/robotics-and-intelligentsystems/australian-centre-for-field-robotics.html. Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].

2. West, J. and Gill, W. (2016). Genome Editing in Large Animals. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 41, pp.1-6.

3. Roberts, D. (2018). This company wants to build a giant indoor farm next to every major city in the world. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/energy-andenvironment/2017/11/8/16611710/vertical-farms [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].

4. ATEC biodigesters. (2018). https://www.atecbio.com/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].

 

Author: Steven Liu

2018 AgriEducate Essay Competition: Winners Announced

It is with great pleasure that we get to announce the winners of the inaugural AgriEducate essay competition in this post. The competition aimed to promote the application of diverse knowledge bases and fields of study to food security and agriculture in general. The team at AgriEducate had a great time reading through all the responses and were very excited by how well received the competition was.

We received submissions from 14 different universities around Australia (out of 43 in Australia) from a diverse range of degrees covering everything from law, medicine and international trade to construction, anthropology and engineering! The competition itself reached over 50,000 people on social media too. So a massive congratulations to everyone that entered the competition and for applying your knowledge in an agricultural setting. The essays were all of very high quality and the judges did have a tough time deciding the final winners.

So what was at stake? Well there were three cash prizes across the five categories:

  1. $500
  2. $150
  3. $50

Importantly, representatives from each sponsor of each category (including AgriEducate as the Social Science/Arts sponsor) have offered to personally contact the winner and develop that connection within their respective field. We’d just like to thank the following sponsors for their fantastic support of the competition too.

The Results

So without further ado, here are the winners of the AgriEducate Essay Competition. The Essay Compilation includes all winning applications in an easy to read format so you can be inspired by the talented young minds around Australia. We’ll be releasing each of these essays as an article each and every week, and including them in our monthly newsletter as well, so please make sure you sign up so you don’t miss out!

Law

First Place: Jordan Soresi

Second Place: Jocelyn Bosse

Third Place: Katrina Nash

Engineering/IT

First Place: Steven Liu

Second Place: David Goudie

Highly Commended: Ashleigh Johnston

Science

First Place: Stephanie MacKillop

Second Place: Bailey van der Zanden

Third Place (tied): Amy Moss

Third Place (tied): Katie O’Connor

Social Science/Arts

First Place: Abby Georgeson

Highly Commended: Tayla Robinson

Business/Commerce/Economics

First Place: Benjamin Malcolm

Second Place: Frederick Litchfield

Third Place: Élodie Lussier-Piché

 

Note:

The views presented in these essays do not necessarily reflect the views of AgriEducate, and are the views of the original author.

Some formatting changes and title additions have been made for the essay compilation for improved readability.