The Future of Agriculture Requires New Thinking

Published online: Sep 28, 2018 Articles Emmy Koeleman
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Source: Future Farming  

An ecocentric or a technocentric approach? What is the future of agriculture and which of these two approaches can feed the world better? Probably a mixture of both, although that is a challenging mission, says Joris Lohman, co-founder of Food Hub. Joris is speaking at the upcoming Global Future Farming Summit.

Food Hub is based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and was founded three years ago by Joris Lohman and his business partner. Food Hub connects companies, businesses, governments and other key stakeholders to enable people to change the world of food. This is done through education programmes and training courses for example.

Key players in food chain focus on themselves

Lohman has noticed over the years, that although the food production chain deals with many steps, all the different key players in the food chain, like farmers and retailers, often operate alone and focus on themselves. But it is time to change the culture of solo mentality in the agrofood chain, and Food Hub wants to facilitate this. In the run-up to the Global Future Farming Summit, we talked to Lohman about his vision and view on what is needed to do this.

For starters, how have agriculture and food production changed over the last decades?

“If we look back on let’s say 150 years of agriculture, we see that it has its basis in a farming system that combined city and farmland. With urbanisation, farms and cities became more divided and the farmers started to focus on efficiency and growth, fuelled by the introduction and availability of new farming techniques, tractors, chemical fertilisers and crop protection substances after the Second World War. This led to a quick transformation of the European farming system, from a small scale and labour intensive sector to a modern, large scale and efficient system. Although praised by many, this system also created problems such as excessive CO2 output, manure and other waste streams. Now we have reached a point where we must question whether this is the way forward and how we should do things differently.”

But growth and becoming more efficient are needed to feed the world, right?

“The problem is that the agrofood chain became a linear system when it became more technological, bigger and focused on production and efficiency. This means that it uses a lot of raw materials and nutrients, and although converted to high quality animal protein products, this system is also producing a lot of waste. A linear system is by definition not a circular or sustainable system. Although I also want to address that a 100 percent circular system is not possible, but getting as close as possible is the way we need to go in the future. This is also for example what the Netherlands want to focus on, as stated by the Dutch agricultural minister recently. Circular agriculture does not mean that we will return to small scale farming. It means that we still aim for high yields (and produce enough food to feed the world), but at the same time be as conscious as possible about what we use in terms of resources, and be sure to make optimal use of waste streams for example. A circular agriculture should have as little impact on the environment and climate as possible.”

That sounds almost like we have to think of a new way of farming?

“Yes, maybe we have to, but that is easier said than done. What we see today is that there are 2 camps forming. On one side we have the technology advocates that still aim for growth and more efficiency. On the other side we see people that want food production on a small scale, with a stronger connection between farm and nature and according to ecological philosophies. The technology people believe in efficient farming that is seen in Europe and North America for example. But the real discussions are often about the underlying topics such as GMO. Topics like these are complicated to get a consensus on, as the views on such topics are often deeply rooted in a person’s principles and feelings. In the debate on farming more circular and more sustainable, we try to look at how we can unite these two groups. Can we take the best of both worlds and where can we learn from each other? We need be less narrow-minded and think more in ‘systems’. This demands people who think differently and want to cooperate more. I believe that many problems, for example regarding food waste, can be solved by doing this. Dealing with the ‘technologics’ and the ‘ecologics’ creates an interesting dynamic. I also want to address that technological advancements are great and can certainly help agriculture to move forward. But it is key to implement techniques in the right way and also realise that techniques are not the single solution for a sustainable agrofood system.”

We need to change and we need to create a new story about how food is and will be produced

What do you want to share with the audience during your talk at the Global Future Farming Summit in November?

“At the summit I want to challenge the audience about the 2 different views of how to feed the world and raise the question if we can combine elements of both views, in order to come to a ‘new’ type of farming that is both tech savvy and also sustainable and circular. I want to address that there are different views on how agriculture should look like in the future and that we should be aware how we bring these views to the public and also think which view we want to share. I think there will be more ‘technologics’ than ‘ecologics’ in the audience of the summit, so I am looking forward to hear their thoughts on the future of farming and to have a good discussion about it and maybe challenge them with some of the elements that are more small-scale based. One thing is clear, we need to change and we need to create a new story about how food is and will be produced.”