What was missing
- Clear distinction between “enough food” vs. “food security”
- Discussion of the most effective inducers of behavioral change
- Urban governance, and its role in shaping resource consumption
Watch these areas
- Standardized water footprints
- Governance of land acquisitions
- Managing the terrestrial landscapes that sustain rainfall
What was missing
I probably shouldn’t be so presumptuous as to think that I know what was missing from a week-long conference on water and food security, wherein I couldn’t even attend all the sessions – but I’m going to try anyway 🙂
A better distinction between “enough food for billions” and “food security of billions”
The first is a technocratic issue ( which is more or less solved), and the second is a political economic issue ( which is for far from solved). It would be worthwhile to deploy additional energy on the second issue.
Johan Rockstrom talking about “feeding the billions.”
Copyright Patrick Keys, All Rights Reserved.
The headline of the week may have been (some variation of) “Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism.” Aside from me being frustrated that the article makes such a broad generalization about the scientific findings, its frustrating when an experienced journalist misspells the name of one of the world’s most prominent scientists on water issues (its Malin, not Malik, Falkenmark).
Professor Malin Falkenmark, Stockholm University
The problem with the headline about vegetarianism is that it suggests that the world is one unit, and that somehow resource constraints would affect the world in a more or less uniform way. Barring the emergence of some centralized global government, this won’t happen. Some people will always be able to afford meat and will consume it. In 50 years, some people will probably still eat as much as modern Americans. The question is how are we going to create a world that is food secure for billions. I’m very confident that we will go through multiple advances in crop science, etc. that will allow us to feasibly grow more than enough food for 9 billion people. Imagine 6-10 tonnes of harvest per hectare. I’m 100% a techno-optimist in that regard. I’m not, however, optimistic that we are guaranteed to sort out how to ensure that people are food secure, meaning that the food that is produced can reach people who have the purchasing power to acquire it. Ultimately, “food security of billions” will boil down to the ability of those billions to purchase what they can’t grow themselves, and that is a complicated issue that was addressed by Malin Falkenmark in her talk(s), but by very few others.
Discussion of the most effective inducers of behavioral change.
Urban governance, and the role it could take in shaping resource consumption.
Watch these areas
Standardized water footprints, instead of context-less water footprints
Governance of land acquisitions
Managing the terrestrial landscapes that sustain rainfall
Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved.
On Thursday I attended the high-level panel on “feeding the billions“. Based on comments by the panelists that were hinting at the importance of “valuing water”, I wanted to get an unequivocal answer to whether or not water pricing was a good approach to manage water scarcity.
2012 Stockholm Water Prize Laureates Seminar. Copyright Patrick Keys, All Rights Reserved.
So, rather than clumsily ramble through a question, I wrote the question out in specific words to try and avoid any weaseling in the responses that I received. It’s not often you have such a high-powered captive audience, and I wanted to make the most of it!
Professor Emeritus Tony Allan, Kings College London
Professor Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Dr. Colin Chartres, Director General, International Water Management Institute
Professor Emerita Rita Colwell, University of Maryland
Rationing vs. Pricing
A signal of scarcity is needed
Here’s a quick update from today’s events. Another day of unexpected insights, great conversations, and total exhaustion. Wouldn’t have it any other way! The themes highlighted below happened to come up several times throughout the day, which made me think that they were worth sharing…
1. Be provocative – Today during one of the sessions, Ned Breslin activated the audience by challenging the idea that data collection was the ‘answer to the problem’, by saying that we needed to do something with the data puke. This totally caught me off guard, and I think sort of grabbed the audience and shook them a little. I felt bad for the speaker following Ned, since the speaker had to go right back to talking about data… woops! Ned’s comments though set the tone for the rest of the session by really asking people to move beyond patting each other on the back and trying to apply the ideals of open data sourcing with action. Later in the day, the same idea of provocation came up with the “inward investment in agriculture” session, which sought to take a critical eye to the framing of land grabbing as 100% negative. The panel, comprised of African leaders, international NGO reps, European government workers, and international financiers, was in general pro-land deals, insofar as the deals are just, sustainable, and enfranchising. This is not a perspective that is heard lately in the media, and I liked the discourse. Great, new thinking.
2. Everybody knows the value of water…. ? – During the ‘open data’ session this morning, one of the panelists mentioned that everybody knows the value of water, and I balked. This is not the case at all – everybody may need water, and everybody may think they value water, but very few pay a price that reflects its scarcity or criticality for our survival. I challenged the speaker on this point – but time elapsed before we could really discuss things. The same theme emerged later during the ‘inward investment’ session, when I suggested that the discussion of land grabs must be accompanied by the inclusion of water rights, particularly water as a property right (from the David Zetland school of thought). This spun the conversation up in a dynamic way…. right when the panel was ending! Not enough time to really get into water pricing and the granting of water property rights as a vehicle for sustainable water access, but such is life 🙂
3. Leverage your network, and if you don’t have one, create one – The past few days I’ve realized the power of Twitter. This sounds silly, but the fact that I have had the opportunity to connect with multiple people (including representatives from the US State Dept., World Bank, and the directors of Water for People, and Circle of Blue) simply because I do something that is freely accessible (that is – tweeting) is pretty phenomenal. I’ve invested a lot of time in blogging, twitter, and other internet-based ‘networks’, but the fact that I’m known as the ‘twitter-guy’ at World Water Week gives me pause. The key reason that I’m known for this is because I decided to do it. Someone else could decide to madly tweet throughout the sessions also (which would be great to have the company!), and they might suddenly be encountering the people and organizations that are shaking things up in the water world.
Tomorrow I hope to keep up the provocation, networking, and engagement – despite my inevitable zombie walk as a result of tonight’s late hour 🙂