Sustainable food for a sustainable planet

27 MAR 2019

The impact that food production and consumption has on the environment has received increasing international attention in recent years, and it is easy to understand why as it is a huge problem.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the food sector accounts for around 30% of the world’s total energy consumption and accounts for around 22% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Also, up to one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally – amounting to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes per year. Our food production and consumption has been associated with many environmental impacts, such as major drivers of climate change, excessive use of water, deforestation and ecosystem exploitation.

Traditionally, public health nutrition experts have been concerned with the association between nutrients and health outcomes. Thus, today’s health nutrition experts have to face new problems posed by the globalised food system. Consumers must see the value of the food they eat, nutritionally and economically, while also being aware of the environmental impacts of their choices. With a world population expected to reach about 9 billion by 2050 and with continuing degradation of the planet’s resources, how we produce and consume our food is becoming essential in the protection of our planet.

What is sustainable food? What are the key drivers behind unsustainable food consumption patterns? And what can be done to achieve sustainable consumption at international and national levels?

Sustainable food isn’t just about the food itself, it’s a combination of factors including how and where it’s produced, how it’s distributed and how it’s consumed.

The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation defines ‘sustainable diets’ as:

“Those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.”

But what does that mean in practice? To put this even more simply WWF’s Livewell principles for healthy low carbon eating recommend we - eat more plants, waste less food, eat less meat and processed food & buy food that meets a credible certified standard - like MSC for fish.

A growing population, increasing urbanisation and rising incomes result in a sharply increased demand for resource intensive foods. Animal-based foods are typically more resource-intensive and environmentally impactful to produce than plant-based foods and often contain high levels of sugar, fat and salt. The UN High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security observe that it is having considerable effects on our health by climbing rates of obesity worldwide – even in food insecure countries. Also, consumers’ increasingly resource intensive consumption patterns, in both developed and developing countries, have a major impact on global food price increases – disproportionately affecting poor consumers who are increasingly more exposed to the price fluctuations.

Finally, our ever-growing demand for resource intensive foods is adversely affecting the agroecological resource base, to the point of diminishing its productive capabilities. Land degradation, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, overfishing and marine environment degradation are all lessening the ability of the natural resource base to supply food.

While substantial environmental impacts from food occur in the production phase, households influence these impacts through their dietary choices and habits. This consequently affects the environment through food-related energy consumption and waste generation.

Although more people than ever before now understand that healthy eating is beneficial, few governments have made the connection between good nutrition and environmental sustainability, according to a study published (2017) by the United Nations, the Food Climate Research Network. The study found that only four countries - Brazil, Germany, Sweden, and Qatar - include sustainable recommendations in their dietary guidelines.

Nutrition and sustainability are of high priority in the global political agenda and their importance is reflected by the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); in particular goals 2, 3, 12, and 14. FAO recommend governments to integrate sustainable development goals into existing national plans by forming inter-ministerial committees and task forces to evaluate critical first steps and ensure that all departments of government work together productively to reach these goals.

Achieving interministerial coherence, at a national level, is challenging but critical. This becomes even more complex, yet urgent, in the international arena. Implementing the SDGs needs to be a society-wide endeavor, embracing not only central governments but also local government, civil society, and the private sector. Overall successful implementation will require transforming the way we live, work, produce, and consume - and each of us as individuals can make a contribution to that.

By Alice Kaboli / Founder BonApp


21 APR 2019

Into the heart of the antarctic

In February of this year, I left Abu Dhabi and embarked on the long journey to the Casey Research Station located on Vincennes Bay in the Windmill Islands, just outside the Antarctic Circle.

I was representing Masdar (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company), to participate in the installation of 105 solar panels and three inverters to provide 30 kW of power into the station’s power grid - the first solar power array at an Australian Antarctic research station.

The solar array was a collaborative project between Masdar and the Australian Antarctic Division to help reduce the reliance on diesel fuel currently delivered by boat from Tasmania, more than 3,000km away.

The solar PV panels are built to withstand extreme weather conditions in the Antarctic, the coldest continent on earth, where katabatic wind speeds can reach nearly 300 km/h and the average temperature ranges from -10 degrees Celsius to -60 degrees Celsius depending on the time of year.

It was a fantastic opportunity for the team based at the station to be able to see that Masdar is actively implementing solutions to address global climate change and environmental issues, while also displaying how the company works in all kinds of remote locations to implement innovative energy solutions.

My days began early, often at 2am to see the aurora – the captivating and awe-inspiring southern lights. Following breakfast, I would meet with my engineering expert and mentor to discuss in detail the busy schedule for the upcoming day. Some days I would spend in the rugged terrain outside, learning about the range of facilities and the different activities taking place at the station such as the mechanical workshops, maintenance facilities, water purification facility, remediation site, powerhouse, survival tools store, and the solar power integrated system.

On other days, when the weather conditions were harsh, I had tours inside the accommodation building and learned in detail about the heating and cooling systems. Usually at 4pm the whole station crew, including scientists, technicians and academics would gather to attend informative seminars and talks or watch relevant documentaries.

Around 7pm, we had dinner together and were early to be 9pm each night, usually exhausted. I found meal times were particularly informative and rewarding. On every single occasion, I had the pleasure to sit and talk to someone new that came from a different culture and background. It was so inspiring to hear the dreams and the experience of each person I met and every time I talked to them they took me on a journey to a different part of the world.

It was such an enriching experience. I was delighted to tell the people I met all about the culture of the UAE and the efforts that the government makes to empower Emirati youth and support women in all fields and industries.

I also did a very special thing that I know not everybody gets the chance to do, which is take part in survival training in the cold desert! I participated in a survival course, learning navigation skills, how to use a map, compass, and GPS to reach the camp safely. We hiked for 10km carrying a backpack that weighs 10kg and boots weighing 2.5kg. The weather conditions were harsh with the wind speed reaching 42 knots and the snow falling all around us. After 3 hours, we reached the camp and started cooking our own food, and made our own beds in the pristine snow. We slept securely overnight and headed back to the station in the early morning.

During my spare time, I would go hiking with colleagues and watch the mesmerising spectacle of thousands of penguins going about their day in their natural habitat.

What helped me a lot that for this trip is that I had previously been to Iceland and experienced a cold climate, and of course not forgetting the three layers of clothes and thermals provided by the Australian Antarctic Division as well as the specials type of insulated boots, socks, and gloves.

In 2017, I had participated in the trip to Iceland as part of an international educational programme, where I studied sustainability and renewable energy at Reykjavík University. I conducted a course project, which was a feasibility study of initiating a solar energy consultation company in the UAE, as well conducting site visits to a hydropower plant, geothermal power plant, and a biodiesel production farm.

As a Material Science graduate from Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, my syllabus included courses related to sustainability, renewable energy, and advanced technologies. These gave me a solid background that helped me have a better understanding about the different projects in Antarctica and their objectives as well.

The entire trip to Antarctica was an incredible experience and I learned so much. The visit to Casey Research Station has increased my awareness and made me want to contribute even more to any project or activity that will have a positive impact on any part of the world.

By Tawaddod Alkindi / Sustainable and Renewable Energy Engineer


21 APR 2019

Youth… are they capable of leading the way?

The rapid changes currently taking place across the world have significant implications for our political, economic, financial and social systems. The disruptions posed by Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics and Big Data, have led us to the cusp of a new technology paradigm. Humanity now finds itself standing at a crossroads where we need to know how to adapt to these new variables. Collectively we must find how we can benefit from these changing elements and discover how we can positively influence key issues, in particular sustainability and development.

To be fully aware of the magnitude of what is in store for us and be ready for a brave new world, we need to look at the future through a new lens, keeping in mind the global challenges of resource husbandry, energy sustainability and wealth distribution equality. These issues are never more relevant than they are for the UAE and they compel us to focus on where our investment should be directed. We need to ask: who will propel us to the next stage of the future?

According to the latest statistics, the Arab world‘s population stands at 362 million. Youth are its largest age segment, with people under the age of 30 making up 65% of the total population. We have a golden opportunity if we can equip this burgeoning group with the necessary skills to create sustainable development. We need to harness their energy, as youth energy can be a double-edged sword. If invested in properly, it can lead to productivity and empowerment. If neglected, it can result in resentment and negativity, with young people feeling disenfranchised by not having the attributes that enable them to meet the demands of the future, or the skills to serve their countries and societies.

So it is incumbent on us to ask: are our young people capable of assuming the great responsibility we wish to place on them? Can Emirati youth successfully lead the country towards sustainable development? To answer these questions, we need to look to our past.

From the beginning of our great nation, the founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan set a template for ensuring that we invested in human capital, especially young people. To meet this objective he established short- and long-term strategies to educate youth, build their abilities and create within them new competencies. This policy stemmed from his deep belief that UAE youth are capable of leading the future of this young country, that there was no such word as ‘impossible’ and that a strong will combined with knowledge and skill can move mountains.

The UAE has reaped the fruits of this strategic approach, with the achievements of young Emiratis evident across numerous fields. Their successes have been recorded in sectors that include education, energy, the environment and space, with the most recent notable accomplishment being the launch of the satellite KhalifaSat, which was conceived, planned and built entirely with Emirati expertise.

It is clear that Emirati youth is more than capable of overcoming every obstacle in its path, but we should not shirk our responsibilities to them. The government has a duty to provide all the support and care for these ambitious young people by providing them with the knowledge, competencies and skills that will help them to navigate the challenges of the future. Many of these challenges relate to sustainability; sustainability of the environment, sustainability of the economy and sustainability of knowledge, the latter which was encouraged by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, when he called for life-long learning.

Advanced skills are the key to empowering Emirati youth through their focus on the lifelong learning journey. Advanced skills enable young people to continue their voyage of knowledge acquisition, to overcome challenges and to capitalise on investment opportunities, especially when it comes to sustainability and development of vital sectors that raise the competitiveness of our beloved Emirates.

Advanced skills are our youth’s tool to ensure that they are able to adapt to the changes that are taking place at an accelerated pace around us, whether these are technical skills or personal and ‘soft’ skills. If we look at advanced skills from a future perspective, we find that they need to develop constantly. The future is volatile and full of new challenges that impose on young people the need for flexibility if they are to meet its demands and serve the interests of their country and its future generations.

The UAE is moving steadily towards leading the future, with our wise leadership’s ambitions reaching beyond the sky. We have achieved in a few short years what other countries take decades or longer to accomplish. Our dream is growing and our young Emiratis are responsible for realising this and proving to the world that the UAE is the country of science, the country of knowledge, the country of the future and the country of sustainability.

By Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi / Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced skills


21 APR 2019

Youth… are they capable of leading the way?

The Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT) is an independent, pan-Asian think tank, with offices in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. At GIFT, we focus on the shift of influence from the West to Asia, the changing rules of global economics and geopolitics, and the role of government and business in the 21st Century.

Our work takes us across East, Southeast and South Asia, in countries like India, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Mongolia, and others.

One aspect of our work is powering innovation within large companies by facilitating six to seven programmes each year. Our two-week programmes have two modules. In the first module, we bring young professionals — from government, business and civil society — to either Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, where we expose them to important new concepts through discussions, breakouts and role-play exercises.

In the second module, we push participants to apply these concepts through a real-world, experiential field project. Our projects take participants to places they would never experience normally. Sometimes these places are remote villages in rural India, China or Indonesia, but sometimes they are much closer to home, such as low-cost housing estates in ultra-urban Hong Kong.

But all of these projects are connected in their attempts to solve real-world problems, from financial inclusion and affordable housing, to rural electrification to farmer organisation, through an innovative, financially-viable and socially-directed business model. Participants, through stakeholder interviews and collaboration with each other, build these models in just one week.

These projects have given us novel insights in what business and policymakers can do to solve persistent socio-economic issues and how civil society can work in partnership. Just as importantly, they provide insights on what some of these entities can’t do. One conclusion we have reached is that while businesses and committed entrepreneurs can innovate when it comes to solving social issues, their solutions can be difficult to scale without the cooperation and partnership of the state.

We have seen how the government’s engagement can vary through some of our programmes.

In August 2017, we travelled to China’s Yellow River Golden Triangle to work with the Puhan Cooperative: a farming organisation run by Madame Zheng Bing, a successful rural entrepreneur. We were there to help her develop an integrated model that would connect her farmers with consumer markets in nearby cities.

China presents a positive case of how the national government acts as an engaged partner. The central government is not always directly present in rural communities, but it gives guidance on which socio-economic issues it wants to tackle, whether these are developing left-behind regions or repairing environmental damage. This also acts as a signal to businesses and organisations that their efforts in these areas will receive public support. This is what guides China’s largest companies, such as Alibaba, to develop their own strategies for rural development.

Our programmes in India present a different example of government engagement. In March 2017, we brought a group of business leaders to work with Swarna Pragati Housing Microfinance, an innovative provider of incremental housing finance, and the winner of the MetLife-Wall Street Journal Financial Inclusion Award. The founder, who had come from the public sector, successfully lobbied his state government to accept community land titles as proof of ownership, unlocking finance to rural families across Tamil Nadu.

Participants on our programme found that Swarna Pragati’s most difficult challenge, unsurprisingly, was scale. India’s housing challenge is massive: 43 million homes are needed in rural areas to cover the shortfall. India’s government recognises the problem, launching a massive housing construction campaign titled “Housing For All”. But progress has been slow, with only 4% of approved homes actually being constructed.

India shows the importance of governments having the ability to follow through on their pledges: Swarna Pragati, or any other innovative business provider, will never to be able to completely resolve India’s social issues without the engagement of a capable government.

Of course, governance exists at multiple levels: not just national, but also federal, municipal and local. In November 2018, we brought a group of young leaders from across ASEAN to Jakarta to work with OK OCE, an initiative by the Municipal Government of Jakarta to upskill marginalised and under-educated communities across the city.

Working with the Jakarta government shows how local and municipal governments can be willing partners for enterprising business leaders. They are “closer” to the issues, and more accountable to those citizens struggling with them.

But while they may be willing and able partners, their reach is limited. Job creation is not a need solely in Jakarta, but also in Surabaya, Bandung, Medan and other cities. But the Jakarta government has little ability to help spread any solution to other cities on its own without the cooperation of the national government.

The importance of the state as a willing and able partner is not something people in business, or even the NGO sector, often consider. Governments are seen as too lumbering, too complicated, too slow or (especially in the developing world) too corrupt to be good partners. But their engagement is needed if innovative solutions are to be scaled to a level where they actually solve the problem.

These are the kinds of mindset shifts we try to engender on the business talent that comes on our programmes: a true understanding of how business and society in these emerging markets actually works, fostered through our unique learning methodology.

By Chandran Nair / Founder and CEO, The Global Institute For Tomorrow