Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’
Much of the world’s arable land is being farmed already, so the lion’s share of the increase will need to come through higher yields. In many places, yields can increase—if prices rise high enough to make investment in more-intensive agriculture worthwhile. Still, much of the developed world is approaching the ceiling of what is cheaply possible. Sub-Saharan Africa, despite its long history of food insecurity, is one place where yields could increase dramatically; agricultural basics such as good seed and fertilizer would go far in a region that the green revolution bypassed. Full article on the Atlantic Monthly here.
Day Two/ Three/ Four of 2009 O’Reilly Etech Conference in San Jose
It is interesting to note that wherever you look, you will definitely spot someone using either a Macbook or Iphone…
Anyway, day two kicks off with a presentation by Alex Steffen on the topic of Sustaining the American Family. In what was related to as a “Massive Inter-generational Ponzi Scheme”, we are in danger of reaching the tipping point in peak population, peak carbon emission (No prize for guessing who is the greatest Ponzi of all time!). He reckoned that the world would be in ruins if the developing countries (poor) followed the path to richness as experienced by the Western developed countries. While America is in no position to stop the poor from seeking a better life, there is a need to educate them on the risk, else it would be difficult or impossible for anyone to sustain their current way of life. Hence there were talks on 1) energy efficiency and CO2 admission – by introducing electric cars, and how we can measure our energy footprint/ consumption, so as to better improve and optimize usage; 2) Design and Density – moving toward closed loops design, so as to have 100% recyablity (e.g. Crocs shoes) as well as urban homesteading/ clustering to share common resources as well as eliminate unnecessary traveling. There were further discussion in the session by Gavin Starks (founder and CEO for AMEE) on Energy Identity – Interesting to note that 2½ Kg Mac laptop has a 460 Kg CO2 emission footprint (Yap! Guilty faces of all the geeks/ techies in the room!). Energy identity is best describe as a digital embodiment of a user’s physical consumption. With 20 largest cities consuming up to 75% of the world’s energy, and more than 600 million people moving into cities over the next five years, we need rapid innovation in energy efficiency technology, service transformation (high carbon prices/ tax would result in business shift from products to services, i.e. having more efficient public transportation system, reducing car ownership, etc), as well as redefining how our communities’ perception to understand and enjoy quality of life through simplicity rather than money.
Elizabeth Goodman’s topic on Urban Green Space Planning had a different twist, in which people from the same community can register to form a working group to grow and maintain their neighborhood plants (Landshare) as well as reap the benefits/ fruits of their labor. This is no easy task, especially when most of us will have no prior knowledge in the art of farming, and you may need one to have good project management skills to schedule and plan resources to ensure the that plots are well maintained. Then there is the talk on Urban Homesteading by Mark Frauenfelder (Make Magazine) on the seven guiding principals leading to a successful urban farming: 1. Grow only useful things; 2. Region matters (understanding your surrounding environment); 3. Build your soil; 4. Water deeply and less frequently; 5. Work makes work (i.e. work with nature, not against it); 6. Failure is part of the game; and 7. Pay attention and keep notes. Mark also taught about rearing chickens, which I reckon it makes no sense to talk about it here…
In a slighter different light on urban planning, Brad Templeton shared how Robot Cars may be able to solve everything. Well, almost… He wanted a robotic car that parks, delivers and refuels itself, and would definitely be a great hit in countries such as Japan, Singapore, etc… Went on to share video of the DARPA grand Challenge, where competitors compete against each other through a series of test runs, both through urban as well as country-side driving. In addition to the fundamental issue of battery lifespan clouding the development of electric cars today, Robotic cars will bring about a different set of problems such as reliability/ safety, political, national security (terrorism).
Mary Lou Jepsen (recently named as one of the hundred most influential people in the world by Time Magazine – May 2008 for her work in creating Pixel Qi) speaks of Low-Cost, Low-Power Computing in order to reach out the billions of youth in developing countries, deprived of proper education, in her “one laptop per child” project. Though her project fell short of achieving the production target of 8 million laptops last year (actual production figures not disclosed), Mary is still hopefully that the recent downturn would help to drive material/ production cost down in her bid to produce small inexpensive laptops. On the technology front, she claimed that the war for more powerful CPUs are over, laptops are now being widely used as a medium for reading. Hence the development lies in having a low power, sun-light readable, high resolution screen.
We also get the opportunity to see Carl Taussig (HP Lab) introduce flexible paper-like screen, and the technology behind how roll-to-roll manufacturing. In time to come, we will be holding such flexible screens to read our news…
And the theme of Networking with Smart Sensors, which create quite a stir w.r.t. data ownership/ IP and the invasion of personal space. On Wednesday, Tony Jebara (Sense Network) talk about how Mobile Phones Reveal the Behavior of Places and People. With social network portal such as Facebook, Flickr, Gmail or mobile phone with wireless capability (Iphone, blackberry, etc), laptops/ desktop with IP addresses, tons of data are being transmitted and collected at any given time. On one project, they monitored people working in San Francisco financial district, using mobile signals to track their activities (such as working hours) and the correlation to stock market (Though there were questions raised as to how to determine if those monitored are actually bankers, clerks, janitors, etc); on the other project, they tried to map out and cluster group of individuals with similar interest who frequent certain type of restaurants, bars, etc (flow analysis). The latter was deemed to be useful as companies can use these data for their advertising, marketing, strategy planning/ churning (if a few members from the clustered groups start switching to a different network, they would promote themselves to the remaining individuals of similar group to retain their service); demographics; collaborative filtering.
In another session – Real Time City by Andrea Vaccari (Senseable City Lab), he showcased the visualization of mobile traffic between New York and other countries, which gives us a pretty good picture as to how New York is connected to other parts of the world, and social network portals like facebook, flickr, which will reveal the location of the users (I posted in my facebook that I will be in ETech this week!), and then Nick Brachet educated us on how we are being “tracked” daily (sounds like some James Bond movie…) – three nodes to identify location and a fourth to synchronize timing (based on the theory of six degree of freedom).
Though we now know how our digital footprint is revealing information of us at all time, it seems that the application of such data sounds rather trivial and non-conclusive. It would take a lot more (Political, regulations, signal networking, etc) before we establish more use for such technology.
Lastly a special mentioned on the session with Lisa Katayama (blog: TokyoMango.com) and Fumi Yamazaki on Japanese Tech Culture. Interesting to note that just this week, Hatsune Miku music software created a digital song (i.e. sang by computer) that tops their music chart (#2) – Makes you wonder what’s installed for the future of artists…
Oh, I forgot to mentioned that we are treated to the music of Zoë Keating on Wednesday night. Cool!
A Global Retreat As Economies Dry Up (Washington Post, 5 Mar 09) full article here.
I wanted to higlight two articles on deglobalisation. The first piece is on trade protectionism. You may remember that in the Future of Global Demand piece we did a little while ago, one of the four uncertainties that will kill Chimerica would be trade protectionism. Here we see incipient protectionism with accompanying trade union protests, ‘Buy America’ provisions etc. So far sense has prevailed, but it bears tracking.
The second piece is closer to home, on Singapore as the shimmering ‘house that globalisation built’. What strikes me most is that markets like China are so self-sufficient that aside from ASEAN’s food resources, high tech (hence Premier Wen’s shopping trip in Europe) and metals/minerals (shopping in Australia and Africa), they don’t need much from the world. We would likely see the reverse as the export machine kicks into gear and China retools to sell to Africa, South Asia etc. For Singapore, IF supply chains feeding G3 don’t kick back into life, I would think the move into strategy three as outlined in our piece, that of becoming a services hub as well as strategy four, doing irreplaceable New ag IP for Asia would be the way to go.
Of the three models, Wounded Beast seems to be succumbing to a mixture of Chasm and Menagerie. How much time do we have to retool? Hmmm…
Wow, this is what I want to see for BOP. A case study on how to viably create rural wealth, especially in devastated areas. By piecing together a complex ecological puzzle, biologist Willie Smits has found a way to re-grow clearcut rainforest in Borneo, saving local orangutans — and creating a thrilling blueprint for restoring fragile ecosystems. Original TED link here.
How would we be able to scale this up? I remember one line of inquiry I put aside, on ecosystem services to restore natural wealth in a profitable people centered way. Looks like this is a signal to relook again.
Just learnt that the Institute of the Future (IFTF) will be coming out with a global food outlook and a map of the decade for 2020. Essentially we see the food supply web and the food security web coming under intense stress, at a time of both widespread obesity and malnutrition, and declining ecosystem-support. This should be fascinating to see what they come up with.
They don’t always get it right though. I remember their 2006 Map of the Decade they actually do talk about the ‘New Agriculture’ and even earlier some mention of shift towards organics etc. But they didn’t see this whirlwind of food crises hit. Now they are scrambling. But very few people caught this early on, I think the World Resources Institute’s Lester Brown did, but few listened.
I am one of the first speakers next week at a seminar on food technology, talking about Future of Food. I completed a similar one last week for another organisation, same topic. Food is hot, and it will not go away. There are some really provocative questions I can ask, and I think I will after all need to work in food security crises into my current food supply crises slides. More work, let’s see how much I can do, it is a busy week next week.
P.S. There’s an ill-recognised time bomb here, I observed that most of the management of agriculture policy makers and researchers around the world are old men. This is not to diminish or take away their accomplishments, which they have done well. But I realise agriculture is not sexy, young people both in the rural and urban areas do not want to take it on as a career. For example many of IRRI’s rice researchers are approaching retirement age, young blood is missing. And the world needs young men and women who have to figure out how to deliver more agricultural yields with less inputs, in a stressed environment.
I didn’t realise there was such a gulf in looking at the future. When I asked some European based futures ppl what their view on future of food was, they replied on going organic, a big firm no to GMOs and the slow food movement. The irony of this is over here in Asia, there is plenty of food stress going on in the system and going organic etc was not very high on the priority list, feeding people and preventing societal breakdown is.
I did up a Future of Food presentation last November, and to my surprise, it turned out to be a favorite and folks have asked for me to present it, and for the ppt to be shared.
If you like to follow the entire flow, here it is on slideshare.
Despite all the talk so far, and the Food Summit in Rome, I fear there has been little action or leadership shown. Food stressed countries like China, India, GCCs have started moving in their own ways on this.
Aside from food supply stresses, there are food security stresses. We have seen plenty of public discomfort with the presence of large corporations dominating the food chain. I saw a lovely map showing how all of UK’s many farms had to sell to only 5 conglomerates dominating the supermarket outlets … what I call the Wal-Martization of the food chain …. and this makes it open to abuse. There are many forms of this abuse, but the recent Sanlu melamine in milk (China), tainted rice (Japan) etc shows the weakness of the system. Is this going to change? How might it change in the face of public outrage and surveillance? That is worth going into, and of course my challenge is showing what this means for Singapore, hah hah. But that’s for later.
I came across this really lovely wordle website where you can crunch your research and out comes a word cloud, pretty nifty way of seeing where my research keeps throwing up leads, and if I am a little too heavy or biased. A 2 second glance to ‘get’ what I am talking about.
Future Sense – Economic Opportunities in Ecosystems and the New Agriculture
This issue of Future Sense brings you a slightly different viewpoint, on ecosystems and agriculture. Having spent the last century largely in the shadow of manufacturing, agriculture will re-emerge as the ground zero for global innovation – and global turbulence – as industrial practices adapt to ecological models for using the land to assure food, fuel, climate management, and global health in a world that is becoming radically urban and over developed.
Innovation in agriculture cannot be separated from innovation in ecosystems management, as both ecosystems and agriculture usage are inextricably entwined. In the place of the age-old system where agriculture takes place from the degradation of natural ecosystems, the trends are towards ecologically effective industrial scale food production and marketising ‘free’ common goods such as oceans and forests.
Ecosystems as markets?
There is a growing interest in treating ecosystem goods and services not as “free” common goods, but as assets with a market value in order to provide incentive for their conservation. There already are cases where private/public efforts in the Americas to finance bonds to restore a region’s forest ecosystem (Panama Canal, New York City’s watershed as examples). There are movements to parcel out oceans as exclusive economic zones for industrial scale deep sea farming by the US govt. As these markets emerge, competitive advantage will go to businesses and jurisidictions that can reduce environmental impacts and innovate services that protect and renew the environment.
The New Agriculture?
There are many warning signs that the agricultural system is under stress. The food production chain is also compromised, as shown in recent ‘scary food’ cases. The response is a plethora of innovation that will transform the way we produce and conceive of food, while protecting and restoring our vital natural resources. These trends are urban ecology farming (imagine vertical farms supplying 30% of a city’s needs) to genetic engineering, intensive organic farming, open ocean fish ranges, deep sea farming.
What about Singapore?
The lack of an agricultural base no longer needs to constrain Singapore to create economic opportunities in ecosystem restoration and the new agriculture. Some thoughts are:
- Attracting new financial instruments to be based in Singapore as ecosystem-finance hub to restore Indonesia’s depleting forests.
- Trialing and perfecting urban agriculture (vertical farming, open ocean aquaculture) technologies for eventual export to Asia’s over urbanised and food stressed cities of the future.
- Research into open ocean fish ranges in the tropics to spearhead ocean farming in tropical Asia.
Is this a potential new economic market for Singapore to get into? How can we be a regional leader in ecological systems recovery and the new agriculture?
If you like to find out more, please see pages 33 – 35 (article Ecosystems and Agriculture) of “Tomorrow’s Markets – Global Trends and their Implications for Business” link at http://pdf.wri.org/tm_tomorrows_markets.pdf and pages 43-47 (article Ecosystem Districts) of “Restoring Nature’s Capital” link at http://pdf.wri.org/restoring_natures_capital.pdf