It’s 2016… Let’s wake up!
I was a very stubborn and tough baby. Apparently, I never cried — not even when my brother hit me with a hammer on the head (my dad discovered the hole in my head days later). Wait, there were times I cried: when the food was up. Perhaps this inborn love for food has made me what one could call a “food activist.” Frankly, I’m perhaps not what many might imagine when they hear the word “activist”. I’m not going on hunger strikes and I am not tying myself to trees… I’m solving challenges of social entrepreneurs!
Okay, to be honest, just the mere fact that I appreciate food did not make me a food activist. My journey actually started quite far away from good food…. When I worked in Togo in West Africa, I did not particularly indulge in gastronomic adventures. However, touched by the simple lives, but also by the joy that people had for the smallest things, I developed a particular awareness and gratitude for the life I have, and the food I eat.
The more I am learning about our global food system, the more I discovered to what extent our global food industry is one of the biggest threats of our times. Even more so, I’m thinking: its 2016 — are we being serious? We have the knowledge, the tools and the resources to change it — let’s wake up! This is when the 2-year old Vicy in me probably triggered an urge to do something about it and to mobilise a maximum of people to do the same.
A Food Drama — can there be a happy end?
When hearing Food Security the image popping up in your head probably looks like this:
Indeed, simply put, food security in its original sense is defined as the access for everyone to sufficient and qualitative food (which is kind of what these people do not have). It used to be mainly a responsibility of individual states to make sure that their people had enough to eat. Although this is still at the heart of it, globalisation has rendered food security a hugely complex and interrelated system. With all its backward and forward linkages, it almost seems as complex as the human genome.
Global food system map
No, we are not forever food secure
You would probably laugh if I told you that food security is a serious issue in rich countries. In Europe for example, well over 20 million households say they are unable to afford a high-quality meal every day, whereas the access to food is an issue for “only” 1.6 million Europeans, which is just as much part of a food secure system. Notably, there are other elements that affect food security in rich countries, such as diet-related diseases (like cardiovascular disease cancer, diabetes and other obesity-related conditions) and in particular environmental degradation.
It’s not just the “Mc Donald’s’” and “Monsantos” of our world that are causing problems. It’s simply that we love to produce everything big and bigger. Over the past 50 years, we have increased production like never before. It’s efficient, but unsustainable in the way it exists at present. Commercial agricultural production causes a serious threat to the environment, through the use of chemical fertilizers or the excessive livestock for meat and dairy production to name just two.
Do you remember the last time you bought something that did not have three layers of plastic around it? Or when was the last time you cooked a meal only with products from your region? Food processing and transformation uses very large amounts of resources through packaging, or ridiculously globalized supply chains. It is therefore not that surprising that the food industry constitutes 40% of the global carbon footprint.
As consumers in rich societies, we are also part of the game: Whilst almost one billion people are affected by hunger, we are throwing one third of what they produce away — 30–40% of it happens in private households. Can you believe that we could feed whole continents with this amount of food?
Food and climate change
If this was not convincing….
It is difficult to imagine the impact of these factors on our lives and to get up and act as long as we still have access to an abundance of food and as long as we do not see the effects of climate change. So, if convincing our minds does not work, lets convince our hearts — for those people in the global South that are confronted with Food Insecurity on a daily basis.
We are not even speaking about war, natural disasters or viruses, which are either extremely complex for outsiders to solve and unpredictable. Food is different. The world has abundant resources, humans have intelligence (or at least I hope we do), and food is there to be eaten. Unfortunately, the underlying reasons for food insecurity are a little more complex. Let me try to break it down to the basics.
There are three core areas that affect food security in food insecure countries. Firstly, it is about the ability of agriculture to produce enough food to feed the population. Most countries of the global south still rely on very basic, family farming that cannot produce enough for its rising populations. What is problematic, however, if large-scale commercial farming were adapted, the problem of environmental degradation enters the scene. Another crucial element that starts with production is affordability. As incomes in these countries are low, producing enough food is not enough if production costs are too high.
The second pillar of food security is the transformation and distribution of agricultural produce. In less developed economies, bad infrastructure causes problems in bringing food from farms to markets before they perish. And the lack of knowledge and technology to store food and make it more durable leads to tremendous amounts of food loss and waste (up to one third of what is being produced is wasted). Another huge and controversial issue are import or export restrictions that sometimes determine food security of a whole country (for better or for worse).
The third pillar is consumption. In many poorer countries, households often spend the little money they have on unhealthy foods. Moreover, as societies get richer, they tend to consume more meat, packaged food and dairy products, which require much more inputs and biofuels come with their negative impact on the environment. Adding to this, as middle classes are growing rapidly in these countries, the issue of sustainable consumption and food waste is likely to become an issue for food security.
Ok, I stop here. The message is clear: if we don’t start repairing and renewing our food systems today, climate change, poverty, conflict and migration will backfire. We only have one planet, and soon 10 Billion mouths to feed.
Making Sense of Food Security
Sorry… this was probably pretty depressing?
Don’t worry, I promised that we can all do something about it, right? Two years ago I encountered MakeSense, an international community of over 1500 action-driven people ready to solve the worlds’ biggest problems through concrete actions. MakeSense provides the tools to anyone to act for the causes they care about — by solving the challenges of social entrepreneurs with innovative solutions to these issues.
Over the past year, we developed the concept of global mobilizations around a particular cause that people feel strongly about, such as the refugee crisis or waste or education. The goal is to identify the key challenges of these issues and subsequently mobilise the global community to discover and encourage innovation that solve them around the world. Today, we are launching a Global Mobilisation on Food Security on four continents to address the three main challenges that must be solved for a qualitative and sustainable food system for everyone, everywhere.
Firstly, how can farmers produce enough and quality food for everyone in a sustainable manner?
How can the Market ensure that all produce reaches people without harming the environment?
Moreover, how can consumers become aware, eat consciously and act on sustainability and food security?
These are huge challenges, but I know that so many solutions already exist. For example « La Ruche qui dit Oui » (The Food Assembly), connecting local farmers directly with customers in hundreds of cities to promote local consumption (its amazing to buy your food directly from the farm, and its sometimes even cheaper than the supermarket) or Sen Women Up, a Paris-Senegal based social enterprise working with Senegalese women on efficient and sustainable agriculture projects.
(You can discover more exciting projects on Makesense.org)
All we need to do is to give these solutions more visibility and help them overcome challenges and scale their impact. With MakeSense, we can make this happen: Over the coming 9 months, we will consecutively address the three identified challenges of food security by mobilizing citizens to solve the challenges of the inspiring projects they discover. By the end of the summer, the MakeSense community around the world will have identified innovations and solutions that are worth taking to scale through partnerships with private and public sector actors and the MakeSense social businesses.
Food for thought…
This will not be the end of my journey though. In September, I’ll be returning to Africa to continue my work as a “food activist that solves the challenges of social entrepreneurs”. It’s a wonderful moment when you see different puzzle pieces of your life to fit together and make sense. For me, MakeSense has played a major role in bringing them together — it revived a little Vicy in me, a Vicy that already cared about food as a little kid.
One of your puzzle pieces is food? Come jump on board and join us to have an impact with concrete actions! Read this article by our Community developer Solène to see how you can get involved.
On February 26th join us for an MKS Room at La Gaité Lyrique in Paris, where we will officially kick-off the mobilisation with talks about food security and live music.
Simultaneously, there is one happening in Peru, the Philippines and Senegal — or perhaps in your city?
Vicy is a Gangster volunteer and Board Member of MakeSense.
She joined the Gang in Berlin, where she worked with entrepreneurs and communities on food waste and sustainability. She now lives in Paris, where she initiated the global mobilization on Food Security.