The second day at the Seeds&Chips Global Food Innovation Summit concluded with a panel titled Going Forward by Going Back. It took place shortly after former President Obama’s remarks and discussion with Sam Kass. This panel was possible thanks to a partnership between Seeds&Chips and Food Tank with support from Regione Puglia. Moderated by Stephanie Strom, national correspondent for the New York Times, the discussion transpired in English and Italian about the need to change the food system.
The panel consisted of seven professionals from various backgrounds (listed in alphabetical order): Paolo De Castro, Vice President, European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development; Tiziana dell’Orto, Director, World Food Programme Italia; Paul Lightfoot, CEO, BrightFarms; Edward Mukiibi, Vice President, Slow Food International; Danielle Nierenberg, President, Food Tank; Freya Yost, Vice President, A Growing Culture; and Caleb Zigas, Founder, La Cocina.
At the beginning of the discussion, Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg explained the session’s title: “The idea of going forward by going back is something that demonstrates what is needed in food and agriculture today. We must learn from indigenous farming techniques and apply those methods on modern farms. There is a significant opportunity to combine traditional methods with emerging technologies so farmers can succeed in practical ways.”
A World Development publication also estimates that there are roughly than 570 million farms worldwide, 84 percent of which are smaller than 2 hectares. In most instances, the knowledge systems of these farmers have never been recorded systematically usually derived from many years of experience, making the discussion at Seeds&Chips pertinent. Some questions were raised about why a panel focused on this topic was taking place at a Summit focused on innovation and new technologies. Edward Mukiibi, Vice President of Slow Food International, addressed this skepticism, “At one point, all of the indigenous knowledge and traditional methods were innovations for the people who developed them.”
The panelists also repeatedly stated that the human element of the farmers who work in agriculture must not be brushed aside. After all, engaging in participatory research models teaches policymakers and thought leaders about particular solutions that may or may not work in certain areas.
“Agriculture is very site specific. Technology in one area might not work in another. When you bring in technology that is designed outside of a particular society, it does not always meet the social dynamics of the community where it is implemented,” said Freya Yost, Vice President of A Growing Culture. “To have an equitable future, we need to build on the knowledge of the past to succeed in the future. However, I believe that new technology has created new opportunities for local perspectives to be heard and it gives humans the ability to leverage that knowledge in a global discourse about food.”
An excerpt from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 2017 Global Food Policy Report states, “Improving the livelihoods of smallholder producers while promoting agricultural productivity will be essential to global food security and nutrition and to moving ahead with the new sustainable development agenda.”