In Belgium, a new network with regard to sustainable agriculture and food is created: the New Food Frontier. It is, in a first stage, a network of 50 thinkers and doers. You will find them in the field and at the table, within agricultural, horticultural and food companies, in research groups, at universities, within government agencies, interest groups and soon in many more places too. They look for ways to achieve a more sustainable agricultural and food system. On the basis of analyses and creative thinking they develop views on the future of agriculture and food. In a next stage they want to link experiments to the views they have developed and evaluate them in order to deepen and broaden the public support. Vredeseilanden/VECO is among the initiators.
The need for change
The agricultural and food system in Flanders (Belgium) is facing a large number of challenges. Just think of the scarcity of natural resources, energy and water, the climate problem, the need to review the relation between urban areas and the countryside, imbalances and price setting issues in the food chain, the decreasing number of farms in agriculture and horticulture, the increasingly capital intensive character of the Flemish agriculture, the relationship between food and health, the persistence of hunger in the world and the large amounts of food that are lost.
How should the agricultural and food system respond in a future-oriented way to the challenges we are facing? At the moment Flanders is a top region with regard to the economic performances of its agricultural and food system. That is a result of the entrepreneurship in the sector and the well-developed support for research and education, the fertile soil, the good climate, the favourable geographical position of Flanders. Our agricultural and food system will have to make an even larger contribution than today to the quality of living of producers and citizens/consumers and in general to a more fair and sustainable society. But just as well our food and the role of the various actors in the agricultural and food system must be ‘revalued’. Every country and every region – also the Flemish region – will have to put in its specific assets. We sign up for the pursuit of sustainable agricultural and food systems as indicated in the Flemish Strategy for Sustainable Development 2011 and in the recommendation on sustainable food of the Federal Council for Sustainable Development.
Plan of action
In order to contribute to the turn that is needed for the agro-food complex, we have outlined a transition process in the Flemish context. Such a process goes through various stages: from analyzing systems and developing visions over plotting transition paths and experiments to monitoring and embedding views and experiences.
At the moment we are mapping the system. In order to change the functioning of the agro-food system we also want to acquire thorough knowledge of that system: all its actors and structures, streams and logics, impediments and rules, expressed in a balanced mix of quantitative and qualitative data.
From January to May 2012 a group of 50 carefully selected people will base themselves on that analysis to develop a number of concrete and challenging visions for a future sustainable agricultural and food system for Flanders. Those visions must be inspiring and practicable as well as based upon irrefutable basic principles with regard to sustainability. In June 2012 we will present those visions during a broad forum and submit them for discussion to all stakeholders in Flanders.
The second stage of the transition process will start after the summer of 2012: starting from the visions we will trace out the paths that can lead to change. At the same time we will identify or formulate experiments proving that change is possible. If the learning effects from the various stages are recognized and used in an appropriate way, a system will actually become more sustainable. Therefore this process can only be considered to be successful if the ‘mainstream’ actors and structures convert their interest into a concrete commitment for a follow-up procedure. The feasibility will depend on the support that is built up in the course of the process.
www.thenewfoodfrontier.be (in Dutch)