Sunday, 19 April 2009
New Column for Mediacat (Turkey)
Food, It’s the New Energy
Food is back at the top of the global political agenda. The new G8 meeting communiqué tells us that we are failing against their agreement (called the Millennium Goals) to halve global hunger. Over one billion are hungry today. And the world’s food stocks are roughly identical to the amount of food currently in transit. In other words we have none. So when there are droughts, floods and storms the result is a price spike. Last year the price of rice doubled within a few months, leading to hoarding, queues and guards with machine guns on warehouses. And droughts, floods and storms will be an increasing feature as climate change continues. The UK chief scientist (Beddington) called this ‘the perfect storm’; a crisis in food, energy, climate that will hit by 2030 if we don’t act now.
Food is also, some say, ‘the new energy’. Agriculture, soil degradation, deforestation (due to clearing land for agriculture because of soil degradation) and the energy it takes to drive a global supply chain– according to environmentalist James Lovelock these account for 50% of global warming. As well as wind farms we must also pay attention to the farms. And 30 year studies of soil show that if we stop blitzing farms with chemicals, the soil can become a massive carbon sink, possibly the biggest carbon solution we have. Innovations such as biochar (the Aztec ‘black gold’) using carbon as a natural fertiliser are gripping people today with as much excitement as solar power did five years ago. Entrepreneur Craig Sams for one, the founder of ‘Green & Blacks’ and regarded by many as the ‘Richard Branson of wholefoods’, has now put everything behind biochar.
Meanwhile in the supermarkets, all is not well. The average person in America eats over 1kg of sugar per week. Over 1kg!!! (statistics from the US Department of Agriculture). Most of it is hidden in Coca-Cola, bread, sauces and cereals. And the food industry is sick too. The demand has been saturated. People literally cannot eat any more of this junk. And now the recession and price war are biting. The industry is in desperate idea of a new idea, or it faces bankruptcy sooner than its farmers who are also struggling.
What can get us out of this mess? Simple. Innovation. Make food the new cleantech. Start putting the new ideas (many of them old ideas) into practice at scale. Don’t believe the propaganda from the agrichemical business by the way. Hundreds of independent studies show that yields from organic agriculture are actually higher than conventional agriculture. And it also takes 1/3 less energy. Because the land is growing the food (rather than petrol and petrochemicals). But organic is just one small part of this.
Why am I telling you this? Because none of this will get anywhere unless we tackle the consumer’s hunger to learn. We need them to reconnect with how our food is grown and what it means, for us and for the earth. We need them to demand better. And brand campaigns and marketing can help. Not just the old ‘eco labels’ (don’t worry city boy, leave it us to us). But substantial education programmes using tools like documentaries, wikipedia style information. Several producers in the USA (one for bananas, another for wheat) allow you to use the internet to ‘visit’ the farm where your food was grown.
I know the food in Turkey is amazing, wholesome, fresh. And there is some justice in the fact you eat a thousand times better than America. (Maybe you don’t exactly eat a bag of sugar a week anyway). But you are one of the world’s great food producing nations and we need you to lead regenerative farming, and end the destructive cycle of killing the soil and the land. To achieve this we need to create an audience who is more literate and demanding about food than they are about computers, films or gadgets. And that dear marketer is our job. If we can save the farm, we can save the world.