Food has a crucial role in solving the climate crisis. Indeed, food, climate, and cleantech are coalescing as more power brokers become aware of the role that agriculture has to play in reducing food and climate impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. Here are some stories to start the 2023 year about new ways of growing food, acknowledging the role of food workers, unpacking the importance of blue food systems, and revitalizing urban communities with food independence.
Agri-Tech Challenge Announces Winners
The Food Tech Challenge brought together food entrepreneurs and innovators from all over the world to submit ideas about changing food systems in the UAE. It was an opportunity to network and share stories about nutrition, diet, cultural eating practices, and agriculture prior to the next UN climate conference, COP28 in November, which also will be in Dubai.
To be eligible to compete, startups:
- needed to address Food Production or Food Loss and Waste segments of the value chain
- had not yet gone for a Series-A funding round
- had a workable minimum viable product
- had been in operation for less than 5 years
- have no more than 25 employees
To be shortlisted as a finalist, a startup needed to exhibit:
- a unique and sustainable technological solution
- a strong plan for commercial viability
- relevance to UAE’s food security priorities
- a clear implementation plan in the UAE
The FoodTech Challenge awards offer financial and in-kind prizes to ensure winners have the support they need to have a soft landing in the UAE agri-tech ecosystem. The winners of this year’s FoodTech Challenge will have the opportunity to access a $2 million award pool consisting of a cash prize, startup incentives, acceleration services, innovation grants, localization support, and mentorship programs.
Here are the 4 winning teams, which were announced in January:
- Aquagrain, UK: A cleantech soil improver produced from food waste that delivers more crops with less water
- Sustainable Planet, UK: Growing plant-based protein (water lentils) on non-arable land and creating a protein isolate from the fastest growing plant on our planet
- Revoltech, UAE: A unique patent-pending freezing technology that keeps cells alive
- Orbisk, Netherlands: AI image recognition technology leveraging automation to quantify food waste in professional kitchens seamlessly, reducing food waste and improving sustainability and profitability
Telling the Stories of Food Workers
Historian Howard Zinn popularized the phrase, “History is written by the winners.” The stories we come to know are passed down inter-generationally, reinforced by those in power who influence their content and tone. The same applies to what we know about the foods we eat and the workers whose livelihoods depend on the harvest.
The US Congress failed to pass immigration reform in December that would have provided a path to legal status for migrant farm workers and capped wages. With a new GOP-led House of Representatives, experts say it’s unlikely to be revisited any time in the near future.
“It doesn’t look like there will be, at least in the next few years, any chances of anything happening legislatively,” Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, told an NPR affiliate. “We’re relying on this underpaid and really vulnerable and exploitable workforce.”
More than 300,000 workers performed agricultural jobs in the US through H-2A visas last year. The key function of the program is to admit temporary agricultural workers into the country to make up for ongoing domestic labor shortages.
The proposal would have made a number of significant amendments to the H-2A visa program, including a years-long path to legal status for some migrant guest workers. It also would have added some longer term H-2A visas, established a mandatory verification system for all farm workers, and improved access to housing for farm workers.
Even with the nature-based systems acknowledged in the Inflation Reduction Act, workers and food and climate impacts have yet to be recognized for their full potential amidst swirling political controversies.
Recognizing the Importance of Blue Food Systems
Storytelling and the stories we tell can have real impact in the world and are unalterably connected to food and climate, argues Danielle Nierenberg of the Food Tank.
Nierenberg explains how we often fail to learn the stories of food workers because we have become detached from what it takes to grow our food. To exemplify the point, she zooms in on blue food systems, which encompass aquaculture, aquatic plants, fisheries, and ocean farming. In addition to blue energy, maritime food production is a central element of sustainable food systems, as more than 3 billion people around the world rely on blue foods for vital nutrients.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) has called for a “Blue Transformation” that expands the contribution of fish, seafood, and seaweed to food security and nutrition. This transformation must also be ecologically sensitive, aiming to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. To continue to meet demand, the UN FAO calls for the Blue Transformation in how we produce, manage, trade, and consume aquatic foods.
Achieving this transformation would help to achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals including safeguarding life below water (SDG14), alleviating hunger (SDG2) and securing decent work and economic growth (SDG8). It could also reduce pressure on land-based food systems, with the potential to grow aquatic food consumption to 25kg per person per year by 2050. Effective ecosystem-based fisheries management and ending overfishing are core pillars for delivering this transformation.
Expanding Farmland Access, Breaking Barriers
The National Young Farmer Survey (NYFS) worked with more than 100 partner organizations to survey over 10,000 young and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) farmers across the country. “Building a Future with Farmers 2022: Results and Recommendations from the National Young Farmer Survey” shares the voices of a generation of young farmers who are working hard to feed their communities and build successful careers in agriculture despite the significant challenges they face, including access to farmland and capital, student loan debt, access to healthcare, affordable housing, and the increasing impacts of climate change.
The Survey also confirmed that all of the top young farmer challenges are experienced at higher rates by BIPOC farmers.
To expand land access to historically marginalized farmers, NYFC outlines a series of federal and local changes in its 2022 Young Farmer Agenda. These include improving outreach to young farmers and investing in community-led projects that center Indigenous farmers and farmers of color, preventing further land loss in communities of color, and ensuring that young farmers have access to credit so they can compete in the real estate market.
Young farmers and community-led organizations have already been working to address these recommendations. “Repairing our relationship with the soil and how we connect to food will heal a lot of the world’s problems,” Isa Jamira, a young farmer, activist, chef, and artist based in New York City told the Food Tank. Through acquiring land and building outdoor educational spaces that center Indigenous knowledge, Jamira’s mission is to empower people to take care of themselves and the Earth.
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