Our global food system is falling to pieces and heading for disaster whilst our leaders focus on the only thing they really care about – getting re-elected. Our current leadership structures are ill-suited to resolving our looming food crisis. Let me explain.
A politician has a much longer shelf life than the average CEO. Driven by quarterly results, few businesses invest in long-term projects. Politicians mostly effect policy with short-term effects that will help them in what matters to them most – getting re-elected. The crisis we are facing needs long as well as short term solutions and we need new leadership to get us out of it.
Our food system is fundamentally broken. We live in a world where close to two billion of us are overweight or obese and almost as many are hungry or starving. Many of the over fed are also undernourished due to the poor quality of food – literally stuffed and starved. In the 1950s, health organisations suggested we eat an apple a day ‘to keep the doctor away’ – as it contained nutrients and minerals to keep us healthy. If they ran the same campaign today, it would be a less catchy 2.3 apples a day as each successive generation of faster-growing, pest-resistant apple delivers less goodness than the one before.
According to the UN, one third of all food produced globally is wasted. We have EU regulations and standards for the humble carrot that are longer than the Bible. Perfectly good food is thrown away by farmers around the world when it does not make a grade or look determined by a supermarket chain. Whereas ‘use by’ dates relate to safety, we still use ‘best before’, ‘sell by’ and ‘display until’ dates that often result in confusion and the discarding of perfectly good food in our food scarce world.
In the West, we subsidise our farmers and fishermen – causing unfair competition for farmers in developing countries. Subsidised EU fishing fleets trawl the waters off Africa, leaving African fishermen lower catches and an unsure future. We are then surprised when these people, whose futures we have taken, migrate to Europe.
A single mature blue-fin tuna fetched an astonishing $3.1m in the Tokyo fish market earlier this year. This is the market telling us what we already know: supply is low because we have eaten much of our breeding stock – yet we still fish for tuna. Most, if not all our fisheries, are on the edge of collapse – those of the grand banks have already gone – yet we continue to ignore the reality of our actions.
Our governments and businesses are failing us. Could it be, that as we emerge from the end of two hundred years of industrial revolution and start the sustainability revolution, that democracy and quarterly results are no longer appropriate or effective? These short-term lenses prevent leaders making longer term decisions that can deliver a future for everyone.
More and more of us are beginning to understand that the lunatics are running the asylum. We need leaders who understand the environmental and food crisis we are facing. We need to create a new governance framework where businesses and governments are focussed on solving our shared problems and not on making them worse.
Let’s get busy repairing the future.