On the occasion of the elaboration of the AER Committee 1 work programme for 2018-2019, members decided to develop activities around quality food, short supply chains and sustainable development. In parallel, on the occasion of the Spring Bureau, members decided to initiate a Task Force on Food to develop policy messages on food for advocacy. The approach of the Task Force was from the beginning very holistic, including health, innovation and education. In this context AER decided to seize the opportunity to organise a side event at Smart City Expo World Congress to prepare a session on Food, Sustainability & Governance in the Digital Age.
Food lays at the core of sustainable regional development as it touches upon topics as diverse as the densification of cities, the digital transformation of all sectors, food supply chains and waste management, multilevel governance and citizens participation. The challenge of providing the inhabitants of cities with affordable, safe and nutritious food is both urgent and complex. Moreover, the health and wellbeing of citizens and consumers are directly affected by the way cities and regions themselves are shaping a sustainable food environment. Globally over 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. According to the United Nations, by 2050, over six billion people will be living in cities.
The supply of food is still highly dependent on transport, which is heavily dependent on burning fossil fuels. The impacts on the environment and the climate are dire. Food, mobility and housing are responsible for almost 80% of the environmental impacts of consumption. Sustainable food systems have therefore a major role to play in making cities and regions better places to live in.
The AER session at Smart City Expo World Congress looked therefore at governance and citizens participation in the Digital Age to support sustainable food production and consumption. Reflecting about food supply chains as well, experts discussed how territorial approaches lead to more sustainable food systems.
Bringing together different voices
Three experts, representing regional governments, academia and civil society, shared their experience and perspectives on food. The session was organised in an interactive way, where regular inputs from the public helped move forward with the discussion.
Raimondo Mandis, Member of staff of the President of Sardinia as expert in agriculture, Member of the national council of Slow Food and President of Slow Food Cagliari, presented the experience of his region. Key success factors to increase the sustainability of food systems and lower the climate impact of food in Sardinia haved been:
- Transversal approaches: when different sectors work together they realise that what is waste for one sector is raw material for another. The example of artichokes
- Awareness raising and education are key elements to engage citizens and help them generate a positive impact on more sustainable food supply chains and food waste reduction
- Innovation in terms of processes and products
Samuel Féret, Senior project manager at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Montpellier (CIHEAM IAM) and project manager of the Interreg Europe project ECOWASTE4FOOD shared findings from this project which looks in depth at how to minimise food waste at user level, indeed around half of food waste in developped countries originates at end-user level. This project found that many initiatives exist at regional and local level to close the loops:
- Donation of food surpluses and redistribution to less privileged people is very developed in almost all EU countries, regardless support from public authorities. These practices are rooted in local charity and solidarity networks that involve food processors, retailers, food banks and local charities.
- Innovative solutions arise from new interactions among the food system at local level. Food residues from the industry of leftovers rescued by gleaners can be re-processed into new food products.
- A more circular food economy is emerging from bottom-up solutions to reduce food waste.
Elisa Bodenstab, Founder of international youth exchange project “Perpetuum Mobility Germany” and representative of citizens initiative “Verwenden statt verschwenden” shared the experience of her organisation, which collects food which is still good but can no longer be sold and redistributes it. Elements which help the emergence of citizen-led initiatives for sustainable food systems are:
- empowerment: most initiatives arise from peoples’ needs. They identify a problem and try to find a solution. The main obstacle for many is the lacking belief in themselves. They have an idea, but don’t dare to realize it, because their knowledge might not be sufficient. The belief that they can change something is the basis to start social enterprises, which tackle problems in society.
- mutual encouragement: when stakeholders start an initiative, others who share the same mindset, start noticing and join. ‘Verwenden statt Verschwenden’ for example arose when a couple of people, who noticed how much food is being wasted everyday, started talking, made a plan and put it into action.
- multilevel cooperation between stakeholders: if governments, businesses, NGOs and communities work hand in hand, the probability to succeed is way higher.
Governments can think their action in this context and encourage initiatives by raising awareness on the topic, showing support, increasing the legitimacy of initiatives and developping multi level cooperation to share common aims at different levels.
Identifying areas for action
Samuel Féret shared that, based on his experience, in the very short term, it is urgent to implement harmonised measurements of quantities lost on the farm and wasted in the food supply chain, both at regional and national levels. It is also urgent to coordinate an annual reporting which will help to diagnose the critical areas for actions as well those where progress reach encouraging milestones, so to identify good practices that should be replicated.
Raimondo Mandis underlined the need for awareness raising and citizens participation as well as support to innovation in the sector.
Elisa Bodenstab insisted on the need for a holistic approach to food systems. One point of focus sector is the food waste management and overproduction. 18 Million tons of food are being thrown out in germany each year, which is 1/3. Instances should be motivated to waste as little food as possible or also being fined for doing the opposite. Another area is food packaging. It is not only responsible for a huge amount of waste, but also not always economically reusable. Finding alternative ways of packaging or also just packaging less already has the potential for a big impact.