Why col­lab­o­ra­tion is key to feed­ing the world.

Business Daily (Kenya) - - FRONT PAGE -

When it’s time to eat, most of us don’t think about all the lo­gis­tics and re­la­tion­ships re­quired to de­liver the dish we are about to de­vour. But feed­ing the world’s pop­u­la­tion is a com­plex process in­volv­ing a num­ber of ac­tors, from sci­en­tists to farm­ers to driv­ers to bankers. In­deed, the food sys­tem is the largest seg­ment of the world’s econ­omy. It also needs to adapt to in­creas­ing threats brought by cli­mate change, geopo­lit­i­cal forces and pop­u­la­tion growth. Ray Gold­berg, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of agri­cul­ture and busi­ness at Har­vard Univer­sity, speaks to Knowl­[email protected]­ton on the jour­ney in his new book, Food Cit­i­zen­ship: Food Sys­tem Ad­vo­cates in an Era of Dis­trust. Here are the ex­cerpts:

What mo­ti­vated you to write a book about the global food sys­tem?

The abil­ity to un­der­stand the change-mak­ers of the food sys­tem is im­por­tant be­cause most peo­ple don’t have the op­por­tu­nity to know the women and men who are the change-mak­ers. Be­cause I’ve had these men and women in class and in sem­i­nar for 25 years, try­ing to work with each other and un­der­stand each other in pri­vate/ pub­lic, not-for-profit and con­sumer ad­vo­cate groups, I felt that the pub­lic and the rest of the aca­demic com­mu­nity should know more about these peo­ple.

You coined the term “agribusiness.” When did that word re­ally start to come into use?

John Davis and I were asked by Har­vard Busi­ness School to de­scribe what the food sys­tem is. His­tor­i­cally, ev­ery­body looked at it as a func­tional oper­a­tion in a ver­ti­cal struc­ture, from the seed to a loaf of bread. But they never looked at it as a global sys­tem of in­ter­de­pen­dent, in­ter­re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties, and there wasn’t a name for it. We de­cided that we had to cre­ate a name. So, Davis and I thought about it; we recog­nised that every part of the food sys­tem is some­what of a busi­ness, and we called it agribusiness.

The irst line of the book says the global food sys­tem is the largest seg­ment of the world’s econ­omy. Is there wide recog­ni­tion of its im­por­tance?

This is not fully un­der­stood by the pub­lic. The rea­son is that they think of [the food sys­tem] as ei­ther farm­ing or a su­per­mar­ket, but they never look at the to­tal ver­ti­cal struc­ture that holds it to­gether and the co­or­di­nat­ing mech­a­nisms that help it ad­just. I felt that it was im­por­tant to en­able the reader to not only un­der­stand the ver­ti­cal sys­tem, but more im­por­tantly to un­der­stand the peo­ple in that sys­tem and how they work to­gether or don’t work to­gether.

How much do busi­ness schools teach about the food sys­tem?

Since we created the agribusiness pro­gramme at Har­vard Busi­ness School, there have been more than 100 dif­fer­ent pro­grammes created through­out the world. In ad­di­tion to that, the stu­dents need to be multi-dis­ci­plined in na­ture be­cause it’s not just food or busi­ness. It’s health, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, the en­vi­ron­ment and nat­u­ral re­sources. If you don’t get the food sys­tem right, you don’t have eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Do multi­na­tional com­pa­nies of­ten think they are sim­ply help­ing out by pro­vid­ing some re­sources rather than fully un­der­stand­ing their role in the process?

[There is this] il­lu­sion. If they are big, if they are multi­na­tional, they have all the knowl­edge in the world. The first lec­ture I gave at Whar­ton was about Nike and the prob­lem they have with child labour. It’s un­be­liev­able. A com­pany of that rep­u­ta­tion [can] make these kinds of mis­takes? The en­gage­ment with the pri­vate sec­tor was also cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for these com­pa­nies to un­der­stand they have to change their core busi­ness, and that change will not come with­out ac­cess to rel­e­vant knowl­edge.

Why has there not been enough dis­cus­sion about these top­ics?

First of all, I think that it took a rev­o­lu­tion for the med­i­cal com­mu­nity to re­alise that nutri­tion was more im­por­tant than pop­ping pills. It took a while for the med­i­cal schools to re­alise that the food sys­tem was more im­por­tant than the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sys­tem in terms of health. … [A] per­son can use food as well as phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to cure the prob­lem they have.

How is tech­nol­ogy play­ing a role?

Tech­nol­ogy is play­ing a role in sev­eral di­men­sions. It’s not only play­ing a role in health in terms of iden­ti­fy­ing diseases and re­lat­ing it to the in­di­vid­ual hu­man or plants or an­i­mals. It’s also play­ing a role in eval­u­at­ing land and wa­ter us­age that can pro­duce unique crops that have phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prop­er­ties, which are then en­abling the farmer to make a bet­ter liv­ing by de­vel­op­ing some­thing that’s not only food but some­thing that fights diseases and im­proves the health of the con­sumer. In ad­di­tion, the sci­ence is in its in­fancy in terms of pro­duc­tiv­ity, in terms of pro­vid­ing al­ter­na­tives to meat and us­ing cell cul­tures so that we don’t have to use so much land and wa­ter to pro­duce an­i­mals and poul­try. A whole rev­o­lu­tion is oc­cur­ring that changes who are the ma­jor change-mak­ers, but also what they do.

The most im­por­tant thing that I think you should re­alise is that the food sys­tem has changed from be­ing a trans­ac­tional oper­a­tion to a col­lab­o­ra­tive oper­a­tion. It’s not just how much cheaper you can buy some­thing or how much more you can sell some­thing for, but how you work to­gether to make the sys­tem more ef­fec­tive and more re­spon­sive to con­sumers’ nu­tri­tional needs, eco­nomic needs, and do­ing it in a way that im­proves the en­vi­ron­ment.


NEW BOOK Ray Gold­berg, pro­fes­sor of agri­cul­ture and busi­ness.

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