Feeding the city talk title: S C A R E D

The word S C A R E D is an acronym: Supply, Cost, Added value, Realism, Eating and Demand

Many people who work in the food security field, from scientist to business analyst, are deeply pessimistic on the matter. A best case scenario I often hear from them is this: Millions, if not many millions of us will experience misery, devastation and death.

(Aaargh, the worst is apocalyptical . . . )

A neat acronym. I’m scared. Not for myself, I’m close to having lived my three score years and ten. But for my kids’ generation (they’re in their mid-30s) and my four utterly lovely grandkids. I’m unconvinced they’ll die of old age. Yup, I hope I’m wrong.

The hope, it seems to me, is to have a realistic, evidence-based take on the world we’re living in, and to hear what the scientists are telling us about possible futures.

That is what this talk will be about. The sheer scale of how the heck we’re going to feed today’s 7.5 billion people, let alone the additional 2.5 billion or so yet to come.

And it’s based on a horizon scanning exercise we carried out at the back end of last year. We’ve just published our report on it all: Back from the Future.

  One thought on “Feeding the city talk title: S C A R E D

  1. Dear Kate

    I was at the Impact Hub evening yesterday. I enjoyed your presentation, which was very professional, and stimulated a lot of thought and discussion. We talked briefly after your presentation (I am the organic market gardener with connections in Hungary), I’d like to add a couple of comments, honestly in the spirit of seeing how to move forward positively, and address some of the issues which you highlight, not just playing around on the fringes, but in a way which harnesses people’s positive energy.

    The problem I had with your presentation is that the bleak images you use in your presentation switch on certain responses in the brain (Alarm, Flight, Fight), and shut down other responses (strategic thinking, creativity, sense of order and well-being). Obviously in an emergency situation sometimes we need to switch off our frontal lobes, and be controlled by responses driven by adrenelin, etc. I think when I challenged you last night, I had a bit of adrenaline running through my veins – so I apologise if I was unduly confrontational.

    Whilst I would agree we are in an environmental emergency, possibly on the brink of catastrophy, we can’t sustain over longer periods of time emergency responses – probably all for the good.

    So, for provoking a response, I think your presentation was very effective, but we have to know that this is going to be a fairly primitive response, if a lot of apocalyptic images dominate.

    What we I hope agree on, is that we need to find solutions to our current dilemma. I work currently as an urban rooftop gardener and educator. I would be the first to admit that we are NOT going to feed our cities with produce from the city alone.

    However, what we can do in cities is start people on a process, a journey towards skilling up, in order to be able to tackle the monumental problems we face.

    I am an optimist (I consciously chose this stance some years ago, just to stay sane). I believe we do still have time to work out a benign plan to get ourselves out of this mess. We don’t have much time – certainly none to waste, but if we work things out clearly, it doesn’t all have to end very messily.

    You challenge “sustainability” as a word, as it has been used to the point of become hollow and meaningless. I agree up to a point. You also questioned the role of organic farming, as an option, as you see that it is too slow, and not potent enough to deal with the severity of the challenges we face. Here I’d like to put a few points about how I understand organic farming (having worked in it professionally since 1984).

    First, just the words can get us stuck. When I talk about “organic” I am less concerned about “certified” organic, than the basic, biological processes which we are channelling. The emerging term “regenerative farming” is in many ways preferable, as it is a somewhat broader term, but with the same roots in soil biology (sic).

    My contention is that only “organic” or “regenerative” solutions in farming are worth pursuing. Conventional farming has moved a long way towards more integrated methods over the years (without the pressure of the organic movement, I would argue these changes would have been unlikely to have taken place). But conventional farming (if we take that to mean current farming practice) as we know creates more problems than it solves.

    We need to change or diet, and we also need to change the way we treat soils. The two are connected. Regenerative farming systems are inherently far more efficient than the current industrial farming model, as we harness the forces of nature. Biological processes drive the conversion of sunlight into carbohydrates/assimulates, and indirectly (through plant-soil-microbe web) stimulate efficient, non-polluting processes in the soil.

    Intensive industrial farming systems are so inefficient (look at calories in/calories out of the system) because the depend on inputs. Inputs have to be processed and transported. Smart, lean biological systems (and you can build these into local food systems) produce no waste, only cycle resources.

    There are many more avenues to pursue, but I’d like to leave you with this thought: One of the problems you addressed in your presentation (which I fully concur with) is the ageing demographic of farmers. This is a potential tragedy, as I’m sure you recognise (loss of knowledge and experience, as well as indicating how uninviting farming is to young talent). What needs to be done here is to serious address how to make a new, attractive profession of sustainable food producers (farmers/growers). There is a fantastically positive movement starting up in N. America, where a new generation of small scale growers are being offered new tools to make small scale farming highly productive, highly profitable, provides good quality of life, utilises new, smart and appropriate technology in an integrated, complex way. I offer you two video links, to connect with this movement, and recommend following 3 young people – leaders of this new, small-scale, smart farming movement:
    Jean Martin Fortier
    Curtis Stone
    Ben Hartman


    Kind regards

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