National Food Strategy #17: A statutory funding body

We are pan narrans, a story-telling ape atop Planet A’s food chain, working on a non-fiction account of our own annihilation. A highly plausible ending is within the lifetime of our teenagers.

Doing nothing is not an option.

Knowing what to do is, though, quite another matter.

Responding to even short-term food instabilities in the UK, let alone any disaster scenario here or elsewhere, needs new vocabulary, new mental models, new ways of thinking, different concepts to help decision-making in our highly complex, highly interconnected, dynamically changing food network.*

We are therefore proposing the Government set up a statutory funding body, similar to the Arts Councils or Sports England, both of which have made a significant difference to the arts and to sports respectively.

Its name could be Food Security UK.

Its purpose would be to generate new ideas about potential food system scenarios, ‘new vocabulary, new mental models, new ways of thinking, different concepts’ to meet the challenges of food security for the UK population.

It would thereby

  • Enable much more engaging, informed debate about the challenges of sufficient supplies of safe, nutritious food to all the UK population now and for the future
  • Generate a myriad of currently unexplored, and as yet unimagined ideas for different potential food security systems whether through fiction (what-ifs portrayed through arts media, such as our Narrativium projects) or non-fiction  (e.g. oral histories of refugees who have personal experience of famine when zero-sum game decisions harrow events)  modelling alternative food production or distribution systems, design of over-the-horizon technologies, seed variety experiments on allotments).

A proviso: Such a body should not fund applications from universities or other research organisations; the Research Councils do that. Nor fund commercial or start-up enterprises or their products; there are investment systems for the former, and other funding systems for the latter. Nor support national or local governmental projects or services.

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 A note: There are some who think we shouldn’t talk about the scale of the challenges we’re facing. We think, as does teenager Greta Thunberg, that we all need to know what the scientists are saying, so every one of us has the chance to make their much-needed contribution to help steer society from the seemingly inevitable to the evitable.
See also this blogpost: The Game: Optimism, Reality and Context . . . dancing on the biscuit of opportunity.

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*fwiw: A footnote about complex systems and networks
“We’re surrounded by systems becoming more complex, from embryos and ecosystems to industrial processes and international law. Events and their circumstances in the food system, as everywhere else, are complicit processes; there are no simple cause and effect relationships. Actions, events, contexts are multi-causal and recursive; interacting complex systems modify each other, over and over, and any result can differ radically from what’s gone before. Subplots can take new significance when external events or actions impinge.  Old rules don’t work, order whirls, surprise is unnervingly insistent, no-one is in control.”
The above is a slightly edited quotation from Sources, a briefing paper written for the Innovation Lab at the Warwick Manufacturing Group way back in 2005 (I added in the reference to the food sector, and thought about adding in “CO2” next to the word “subplot”). The paper goes on to outline research on network dynamics, small worlds, six degrees from Kevin Bacon, etc.

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The next blogpost in this National Food Strategy series is about ethics:
#18: The price of plums and other social exchanges; it starts with a briefly told (true) story about pan troglodytes.

Previous blogposts in the series are:

#16: A UK Food Security Institute?

#15: Drug foods and their specific risks to the food supply system

#14: Risk categorisation

#13: A local level strategy?

#12: Local risk and resilience

#11: City level responses to food insecurity

#10: The space between farm gate and food outlet

#9: Three scenarios and their risks to the supply chain

#8: Supply chain permutations are endless

#7: A simplified fresh produce supply chain map

#6: UK resilience to global risks to food supplies

#5: Global risks to UK food supplies

#4: The irreconcilables

#3:  The global competition for safe, nutritious food

#2: Responsibility, resilience and ethics

#1: The brief

A link to our submission is here.    A list of all the blogposts in this series is here.

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