Food production has radically changed over the last century, and so has the way we see our role in it. Industrialized agriculture helped us feed the world’s growing population, but it prioritized profit over the wellbeing of people and the planet. Today, we’re asking: How might going back to our roots — recognizing that we are part of nature — help us to reimagine the future of land and food? What is the path forward? And what part can each of us play?
Social entrepreneurs and communities are already leading the way through sustainable farming, advocacy and more. Corina Murafa, Co-lead for Planet and Climate at Ashoka, caught up with two of Ashoka’s social entrepreneurs: Luis Fernando Guedes, founder of SOS Mata Atlantica and the first unified agriculture certification system in Brazil, and Geert van de Veer, founder of Herenboeren, a nature-driven cooperative movement in The Netherlands, to discuss different approaches to healing our land and food.
Here are our highlights.
Hunger is a political problem
We produce enough food to feed 10 billion people. Yet hunger persists in communities around the world. The “Green Revolution” brought us not just industrialized food, but problems like pollution, deforestation, and labor exploitation. Today, hunger isn’t about lack of food supply, Luis Fernando explains — it’s about power.
The root of inequality, says Luis Fernando, is land. When smallholder farmers and indigenous communities play a leading role in food production, the power shifts. We need new policies to ensure this happens.
Three trends for the future of food systems
There are three possible paths forward, Luis Fernando says. The first: We maintain the current paradigm that trusts industrial technology to produce food that meets our nutritional needs. The second: We go back to our roots and reconnect with the food systems we’re part of. (That includes the work of innovators like Luis Fernando and Geert). The third: a disruptive, and potentially dangerous, solution: Separate food production from nature entirely by producing artificial food.
Reconnecting consumers with their role
The Netherlands is the second-to-largest producer of agricultural food. After 10 years working in the sector, Geert van de Veer sees a hopeful trend: more people asking how they contribute to food systems. Some change their lifestyles, or even careers, as they learn more. The impact Geert sees is not just in soil quality, but in society.
A warning about artificial food
There are major risks with artificial food — food that’s made in a lab, not on the land — and the risks are not only environmental, Geert says. On the economic side, what happens when a handful of companies decide what the world eats? What about smallholders? We can’t trust a few investors or companies to decide the future of our planet, he argues.
To ensure profit isn’t king, design a “system without exits”
As long as moneymaking is the main goal, values like biodiversity or wellbeing will often be cast aside. For an economic system to prioritize the sustainability of our planet, we need a model where stakeholders do not invest one day and sell the next. By creating a system in which “you cannot sell,” conversations shift to what matters most: how we can deliver positive impact.
About the Ashoka Changemaker Summit
The Changemaker Summit “A New Togetherness” is Ashoka’s yearly global gathering. It connects a vast community of social innovators and leaders from business and philanthropy to celebrate inspiring solutions, learn, and collaborate towards systemic change. Tune in every Thursday through December for conversations on Planet and Climate, Equity, and more. The culminating event on December 2 will be hosted in Turin, Italy. More information at https://acms.ashoka.org/