Kavita Prakash-Mani is Practice Leader, Markets at WWF. Previously she was the founder and executive director of Grow Asia, Global Head, Food Security Agenda at Syngenta International and Executive Director at SustainAbility.
We have a small window to start getting things right at scale. Governments and businesses are stepping up but indicators such as ocean and coral reef health, biodiversity and species loss, and deforestation are still not pointing in the right direction. We are losing 20,000 elephants a year for ivory demand. Where are the big systemic solutions?
Traceability and transparency are key. One of the really interesting projects WWF has done is partner with Sea Quest Fiji Ltd., to use blockchain technology to track tuna from ocean to market. Products such as palm oil are more difficult to track but by linking blockchain with digital land registration and using satellite imagery to confirm there has been no deforestation, we can ensure much more transparency and traceability.
WWF has helped me look at systems within which agriculture operates. You can make a farm sustainable but still ruin the landscape around it. For example, you take sugar plantations in Australia – they might all be certified but the pollution is still running off into the seas, and coral reefs are still getting impacted. We need to consider the agricultural system within the broader ecosystem.
We tend to forget that there are individuals within the chain making individual decisions, which collectively make an impact. How do we incentivise farmers and consumers to make the right decision? How do we bring them together as part of a more holistic approach? We’ve always worked in the middle of the value chain with the big companies but that doesn’t always shift the small producers and consumers.
Technology is changing the food system. Now we have new technologies that look at gene editing, building in resilience to climate change, reducing resources and increasing productivity. For example, on the production side, precision agriculture can target individual plants and tailor the application of water, fertilizers etc. Better cold chains and storage facilities reduce food loss and improve farmer incomes. And to meet consumer demand, plant-based meat substitutes are coming to market such as Impossible Burgers and Beyond Burgers.
Getting more consumer engagement is key. To increase consumer awareness on the impact of their food choices, WWF is developing mobile apps to help consumers choose sustainable meat and fish, reduce food waste, consider how much meat to eat, and make the connection to health. New technologies, such as hyperspectral technology, can easily test if food is safe and healthy, reducing food waste and making healthier choices.
We need to focus on demand in developing markets. WWF works with buyers and consumers in Europe and America of soy, palm oil, and beef – which are significant causes of deforestation. However, 60% palm oil is consumed in Asia and the same market levers that can shift markets in the west are not relevant in developing markets in Asia. So how do we ensure that these markets shift to sustainable commodities?
We’re seeing increasing interest from young people. Millennials have a changing relationship with consumption, food in particular. They seek sustainability and are more conscious about their choices. Vegetarianism is increasing. I am not sure what’s driving it and how we tap into this trend. Do they really care about the environment? I would love to see more research.
Originally posted in SustainAbility’s Radar Magazine – Issue 15