He made a powerful and sobering case for why trade is essential to achieve both food security and biodiversity. He also had some great case studies on how large multinationals can have a lot of power to do good environmentally, socially and ethically when they control so much of the supply chain.
Should consumers really have choice about sustainability? Or should all products on the shelf be sustainable? Why is it that today unsustainable products actually cost less than sustainable ones, when unsustainable products actually cost the planet more? The planet is subsidising our food consumption because externalities – pollution, soil erosion and so on – are not brought into pricing. As we factor in these kinds of costs, food prices are going to go up. WWF has identified 15 commodities as the most important to global conservation – palm oil, cotton, biofuels, sugarcane, pulp and paper, sawn wood, dairy, beef, soy, low trophic-level forage species, farmed salmon, farmed shrimp, tropical shrimp, tuna and whitefish. These – rather than rice, corn or wheat, which occupy the greatest area – are expanding most right now, and so it is these we need to be thoughtful about.
- We know that one out of every three calories never makes it to the consumer. If we could eliminate food waste in the system, we’d have to produce half as much new food by 2050. Much of the waste is in fresh food, about which we seem to have a mania today. In developing countries the causes are different but the results are the same.
- Nor can we get away from genetics. If we didn’t have plant breeding, we wouldn’t have cities, we wouldn’t have agriculture, we wouldn’t have produce surpluses. It would be crazy to think we can abandon it. But genetics doesn’t mean transgenics and GMOs. We have to be doing 21st century plant breeding and looking for traits within the species that offer drought tolerance, disease resistance, productivity and nutrients.
- We have to begin looking at trees. Trees are a much better way to produce food, so let’s look at new technologies to see how we can change tree production within 10 years.
- We also need to decide what is the right thing to measure. It’s not bushels and tonnes, or animals per acre. It’s calories. And when you look at calories you get a different set of solutions. Fourteen crops provide about 70- 75 per cent of the calories on the planet. If calories are what the world needs to feed people, bananas produce 20 times more calories in Costa Rica than corn does per hectare in Iowa. Sugarcane produces three times more calories than bananas do and 60 times more than corn. Can we use banana starch to replace corn starch? Can we begin to look at the substitutes that will meet our caloric needs?
- We need to think differently, start measuring and start managing what we measure. Seventy per cent of all the water we use is for agriculture. This means that every calorie of food takes a litre of water to grow. So which crops take less water, or produce more calories? By 2050 we will have to produce two calories with half a litre of water. Which crops, what farming systems, can do that?
- We must focus on the results and be agnostic about the technologies. Let’s figure out which technologies work better in which places.
- One of the things people don’t understand is how dependent we are globally on a few countries to fill in the gaps of production shortfalls. When Russia cut wheat exports. That triggered price rises. And someone in Tunisia set themselves on fire in protest, triggering a series of events that became known as the Arab Spring.
(see: SUSTAINABILITY, SOCIAL MEDIA…and THE FUTUREOF RETAILGlobal Retail Summit London, August 2012, 44 pages)