Opinion: New Zealand AgriFood Week kicks off in Manawatū from 3-9 May. Here Daniel Eb takes a look at four speakers with four different ideas about the future of our food system.
One way or another, the way we feed people is going to change.
We are staring down the barrel of fundamental transformation in our food system.
Environmental crises are colliding with cultural mega-trends, disruptive technology and widening social inequality.
That means the onus is on us – food producers and their supporters – to change first.
Transformation is no longer a nice to have, but a necessity for survival.
This is a time for moving past the myopic debates – like alternative vs traditional protein – and looking harder at those at the cutting edge of food.
It's about understanding their perspective on positive change, and how they intend to transform their organisation, sector or indeed the world.
At New Zealand AgriFood Week 2021, we'll hear multiple, sometimes conflicting, theories of change by the people out there, doing the mahi.
Theories like the transformative power of alternative proteins, livestock as fundamental to food, supermarkets as pro-social leaders or how our domestic food system fails Kiwis.
The real question isn't which of these "futures" is the right one - but how each perspective might influence our own individual big, bold, scary and inevitable transformations ahead.
Thomas King: Founder, Food Frontier
For Food Frontier founder Thomas King, the "why" behind accelerating alternative proteins is clear.
Plant-based meat, cellular agriculture and other food innovations are the transformations needed to futureproof our global food system.
Fundamental food system redesign is a compelling argument in a world where industrial protein production contributes to multiple crises – from public health threats to biodiversity loss, resource scarcity or climate change.
And the alternative protein pitch is landing.
Forty-two per cent of Australians can be categorised as flexitarians, meat reducers or vegetarian/vegan.
To serve this growing demand, the Australian alternative protein sector nearly tripled between 2019-2020, generating a 46 per cent increase in plant-based grocery sales year-on-year.
Food Frontier's vision of a diversified protein supply is not a fad. The transformation is being led by pioneering entrepreneurs, food producers and scientists with the capital backing and passion to make it work.
This is no longer a "signal" of a future food system, but a market force that our food leaders have a responsibility to genuinely engage with.
For some, that might mean embracing the disruption – New Zealand AgriFood Week headline event Ngā Kai Whakatō Whenua is designed to encourage such open-mindedness.
For others, it will be a question of competition mitigation and re-imagining their model's USP in a world where confronting our health and environmental crises, are what make industries matter.
Ruaraidh Petre: Executive director, Global Roundtable for Sustainable Development
For Ruaraidh Petre, making beef matter in a world of challenges comes down to nuance over noise.
Facilitating a network of diverse stakeholders - from McDonald's to the World Wildlife Fund - Ruaraidh sees pastoral agriculture as integral to the global food system and increasingly capable of mitigating emerging challenges.
That strong foundation includes facts that get lost in today's rapidly changing food narrative.
Like livestock's ability to generate complete protein from marginal food producing land – like that comprising the majority of New Zealand's sheep and beef farms.
Or the role of locally raised livestock in feeding the 1 billion people worldwide who need more protein.
Like emerging challengers, the livestock industry is also capable of transformational improvement.
In New Zealand, sheep and beef farms have maintained (and in some cases increased) production and productivity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent since 1990.
While new seaweed-based methane treatments promise a 30 per cent to 80 per cent reduction in this critical greenhouse gas.
Yes, like the rest of society, parts of the livestock industry need to change.
But the way forward starts with recognising the unsung benefits of livestock farming and exploring its capability to meet our great challenges - through the likes of carbon sequestration, eco-system services, silvopasture or biodiversity restoration.
Kiri Hannifin: GM corporate affairs, quality, safety and sustainability, Countdown Supermarkets
Sometimes, transformation isn't about building a new model or even optimising an old one. For Kiri Hannifin, building a better food retail business, is about collaboration.
Countdown's headline sustainability and people goals signal the organisation's intent to be a greener, more equitable food system leader.
Zero food waste to landfill by 2025, 63 per cent less emissions by 2030 and 20 per cent of senior leadership positions held by Māori and Pasifika New Zealanders, to name a few.
But behind these headline commitments are initiatives that leverage the supermarket's central role in society, and live up to the responsibility that comes with that reach.
From the Growing For Good fund that supports small-scale sustainability projects in schools, to "Quiet Hour" low sensory shopping experiences in partnership with Autism NZ, or working with Water NZ to mitigate the impact of wet-wipes on water infrastructure – Countdown is demonstrating food leadership by changing practices according to what its vast and varied stakeholders actually need.
It's proof that we don't always have to invent things to make impact. Adapting to help others succeed can be transformational too.
Angela Clifford: Chief executive, Eat New Zealand
Positive transformation is hard. Inevitably, it means dismantling long-held structures and identities that just aren't viable when the rules of the game change. It's the hard right, over the easy wrong.
For Angela Clifford, transforming our food system starts with a no-holds barred reflection of how the status quo fails us.
In a nation of proud producers, half a million Kiwis experience food insecurity, local supply struggles in a globalised model and our produce lacks real provenance because we've failed to value what truly makes us unique – our Māori food heritage and deep connection to the land.
For Angela, transformation isn't about new technology or trends. It's about stripping away the institutional baggage of the current food system and asking if it genuinely serves the people it exists for – our producers and indeed all Kiwis.
If not, let's re-design the system to better represent our inherent Kiwi values of equity, connection to place and healthy living.
In short, how do we build a food system that fits the New Zealand story, and not the other way round?
- Daniel Eb is the MC for Our Food Our Future, a New Zealand AgriFood Week event that explores the intersection of science, technology and consumers.