News - November 11, 2011

Cutting food waste to feed the world

What's the best way to feed the world? By using 'social innovation' to combat food wasting, says the KLV alumni. Its 125th anniversary celebrations ended yesterday with a conference.

Alumni get a modern networking lesson.
The conference went in search of the best idea to feed the world. To this end, more than ten teams presented their proposals, some of which had been used as input in preparatory conferences in China, Brazil and Ethiopia. The 'public parliament' then discussed and voted for the best proposal. That took place not only via the microphones, but also by means of Twitter and SMS messages broadcasted on a screen behind the speakers.
The public finally picked the proposal from Airen Lugt and Toine Timmermans, who advocate using 'social innovation' to change consumer behaviour so that less food is wasted. 'I am thrilled,' says Timmermans, sustainability researcher at the Top Institute. He thinks that their plan is popular mainly because of its attainability. 'There is enough food in the world; it's just that we let one-third of this go to waste.' A pity that there was no prize for coming in first.
There were just a little too many grey heads in the audience when it came to twittering, but the discussion at the microphones showed a great deal of public involvement. 'Very interesting,' is how Johanna Schild describes the proposals. An alumnus and a researcher at the VU University for just over a year, she particularly favours speakers with concrete plans, such as concentrating food production for metropolitan areas. 'The rest is just very general stuff.'
Other proposals which fall short of winning include the setting up of farming cooperatives in China and paying more attention to the ecological limits of the Earth. But can these plans feed the world? In the morning, rector Martin Kropff and Gerda Verburg, the Dutch representative at the UN agricultural organization FAO, spoke about the challenge ahead of us. Trends such as population explosion, climate change and food wasting will make the year 2050 one when 'twice as many will have to make do with half as much'. That sounded too big a challenge for everyone to be convinced. 'I have half a mind to tell those guys to go read a book,' one alumnus sighs, commenting during the reception at all that naïve optimism. 'They haven't learnt much from the past, have they? I think that many of these ideas have once been thought about, worked through and discarded.'
The coming issue of Resource will feature a more detailed article about KLV's conference series.