Currently showing: Food security > Farming

31 Aug 13 14:00

Being able to sit in on a 'fishbowl' dialogue session on the topic of food security at Swiss Re's 150 Years Anniversary event in Zurich yesterday left me with mixed emotions. While everyone could agree food security is a real risk, figuring out who should do something about it proved elusive and more questions were raised than answered.

Projected population increases mean that food production will need to double by 2050.* Thinking in terms of simple market principles, if demand rises so sharply shouldn't that create an advantage for the supply side? Shouldn't that attract capital, work force and innovation? Will the market resolve the question of food security by itself?

Not necessarily, it was decided, and here's why.

Feeding the world - the WHOLE world - is already technically possible. But it's a question of access. And the question of access leads to the question of fairness.

Think in terms of consumers in different countries and who has access to what sort of food (from how easy it is to physically get to a market to how safe, varied, nutritious and affordable food at that market is). Think in terms of food producers and the sort of markets, technology, insurance products, subsidies, lobbyists etc. they can access. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that some cogs in the huge and complex system that feeds the world have a ridiculous advantage over others.

Free market principles of supply and demand cannot smooth the jagged inequalities of access to food and industry innovation when politics and wealth are so stacked against certain parts of the globe. The questions came up repeatedly during the discussion: what is the responsibility of the developed world to address these inequalities. And how can the most powerful cogs in the system be realistically expected to lift their thumbs from the scale when doing so will negatively effect their profits? The example of Nestle, who is known for sourcing its products from poorer lands to sell at inflated prices in wealthier markets was raised. Just thinking about challenging such Goliaths can feel futile, and as the group circled the question of responsibility, it was hard not to begin to feel frustrated.

The brightest moment of hope, in my opinion, came when we discussed the possibility of corporate responsibility becoming integrated into the core business of influential corporations, such as Swiss Re, as these entities begin to realize that creating a more stable and sustainable world will be to their long-term benefit. Generating quarterly profits for shareholders may always be a part of the equation, but it needs to be balanced and paired with longer-term solutions that "save the world" - to the benefit of corporation. The fact that this idea was being discussed is hopeful, but is it enough?

It surprised me that the idea of individual responsibility was barely touched upon during our discussions. I believe that we - as individuals, voters and consumers - must also act. Demanding transparency, thinking differently at work and influencing decision makers when you can, informing yourself, consuming consciously and voting with you wallet are a starting place. But what else can we do as individuals and as corporations, to address the inequalities that put the world's food security at risk?

*Source of this fact from an awesome article with some great ideas: check it here:

How to Double Global Food Production by 2050 and Reduce Environmental Damage: Scientific American

Five steps, reflected in the maps below, could be taken to help feed the large population predicted for 2050 as well as reduce the sizeable harm agriculture imposes

Category: Food security: Farming, Food industry


Peter Welten - 4 Sep 2013, 8:43 a.m.

Good summary of our discussion group. After a difficult start due to heavy noise in the facility the group shared a lot of interesting ideas and statements. Of course the ultimate solutions of solving the food problems have not been found during the session.
It was clear to all that at some point in time concrete actions have to follow. Whether the consumer, the government or institutions like worldbank or NGO's should be the main driver to initiate such actions has remained undecided. I think it needs a common effort of all involved stakeholders to achieve sustainable worldwide results.
But each of us can start today and contribute his own small piece by changing some of his individual behaviors.

Jennifer Rodney - 5 Sep 2013, 7:37 a.m.

I think the point you rise about a common effort being needed is a good one. What sort of behaviour changes do you think would have the most impact on an individual level?

Alicia Montoya - 13 Nov 2013, 4:43 p.m.

I think the first thing we need to do is get our story straight. here's a take I read today from @GlobalEcoGuy which I think is totally spot on:

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