From 2012-2016, Global Action Platform engaged over four hundred of the world’s leading experts and executives in food, health, and economics to define the major challenges and opportunities for advancing scalable, sustainable solutions for abundant food, health, and prosperity.  Joining these experts were some 3,000 corporate, university, investor, government, and NGO leaders who participated in annual Summits and Forums where these ideas were discussed. As Global Action Platform concludes its first five years of work, launches the innovation hub at oneC1TY as a living laboratory for urban solutions, and works with GPSS and the IPEU to launch a living laboratory for rural solutions in the Philippines, we have consolidated and synthesized the ideas of the past five years into a knowledge base presented here.  We see this knowledge base as a foundation for effective strategies to inform our work moving forward, and offer it as a synopsis of best practices for others who want to join with us in creating a world of abundant food, health, and prosperity. Foundations for Creating Abundant Food Over the past five years, experts across the food research and industry sectors worked with Global Action Platform to frame scalable, sustainable solutions for abundant, nutritious food for all people.  As framed by these leaders, the food landscape between 2012-2016 consisted of five main areas of strategic importance:
  • Food Strategy and Systems
  • Food Business Models
  • Food Science and Technology
  • Agriculture-Climate-Environment Nexus
  • Food Culture and Nutrition
Several game-changers for food were identified: business approaches to streamline distribution and financial sustainability, strategies to eliminate food waste, scientific research identifying nourishing and disease preventing foods, big data/analytics, mobile technologies for smart farming, and renewal of local food cultures and programs to improve nutrition and to engage a new generation of food entrepreneurs and farmers. Key Ideas on Food Strategy and Systems Situation: One of the grand challenges facing the world today is how to produce enough to feed the projected ten billion people expected to inhabit our planet by 2050, while at the same time strengthening the biodiversity, climate, and environment of the earth.  To feed the world’s growing population in balance with nature will require a comprehensive new food strategy and the creation of new food systems. Targets:
  • Double available food for the world through increased production and decreased waste;
  • Increase investment in infrastructure and technology to deliver food to market without loss and improved food safety;
  • Transition to sustainable, climate-smart agriculture that transforms agriculture from the world’s most polluting sector to the world’s most sustainable force for bio-diversity and environmental sustainability;
  • develop new school programs to create the next generation of farmers and food entrepreneurs; and
  • build trust, innovation and collaboration among farmers, businesses, governments, research institutions, foundations/NGOs and finance to overcome current polarization among the sectors needed to redesign the current system.
  • Restore strong food cultures and the connection between wellbeing and diet.
  Challenges: Increasing the productivity of the existing food system will not solve the challenges to abundant future food. The resilience of production systems, nutritional implications of production systems, and how to reduce waste are concerns, as well as the following:
  • Price Volatility: Farmers face consistently low prices for their foods. Without increases to food prices, agriculture will not be sustainable for farmers. Biofuel mandates have added constraints and rigidity to the system.
  • Poverty: The cycle of poverty and disease enslaves 2.3 billion people globally resulting in long-term social and economic disruptions stemming from a lack of nutrition.
  • Climate Change: Climate change is altering the landscape for food production. The world faces as much as a four degrees’ Celsius warmer world which could decline food staple production by 10-15% over current levels.
  • Governmental Regulations: The global food system is dependent on the government policies and regulations that affect trade issues, safety issues, and equity and often discriminate against the poor and most vulnerable.
  • Food Waste: Globally, $750 billion worth of food is wasted each year. As the third largest consumer of food after the US and China, food waste is a critical issue. Solutions will address what happens to food upon leaving the farm, during transportation, how food is stored and displayed in retail stores, in food service, and at home are all part of the problem.
Opportunities: Women make up 43% of the agriculture labor force in developing countries but are less productive than men due to social constrains and less access to resources.  By giving women the same access as men, farm yields could increase by 20-30%.  Updated technologies (cell phones, videos, etc.) offer ways to disseminate and extend knowledge to help farmers.  The US and other nations need to work closely with governments on investments in infrastructure and agricultural innovations.  Private industry can encourage people to eat healthier diets in conjunction with government incentives.  The focus should be on international policies that link food production to nutrition and health outcomes and allow for the sharing of ideas and data.  Science and technology have progressed to effectively use big data to study genomics and metabolic chemistry.  Data will be the root to increasing the abundance of food in the developing world.  Sustainable change is only possible and scalable when partners work together to coordinate and share data across disciplines. Key Ideas on Food Business Models Situation: The world’s food is produced and distributed through the private sector.  Hence to create abundant food, a paradigm shift is required in the food industry. To achieve a sustainable food and agricultural system, food companies need to bring sustainable sourcing to their business models, as well as new models for food safety, distribution, and nutrition.  The challenge is figuring out what it will take for companies to adopt a sustainable resource model.  At the same time, there is a constant, global drive for lower prices on food, which undermines the economic stability for producers, especially small farmers. A solution for the future will need to address the entire production and supply chain. Challenges: Businesses’ priority is to maximize stakeholder value, often preventing them from investing in programs that also optimize social good.  This is especially notable when 'sustainable' development activities are hard to substantiate.  While development aid and funding are typically coordinated between national governments and organizations such as the World Bank Group, they often fail to effectively engage local stakeholders, which can lead to failure.  The poorest nations are impacted the most by this lack of inclusion in new business models.  The food industry’s current business model is a major barrier to information sharing and innovation.  There is no unified theory of sustainability or engagement of local farmers, thus impeding the emergence of new business models that can scale innovations to achieve total food safety, security, nutrition, sustainability, and shared value economic benefit with all stakeholders in the food supply chain. Opportunities: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a new framework to help businesses and governments work together to solve the problems of hunger and poverty. The SDGs are a pledge by business and government leaders to eliminate poverty, hunger and 15 other global issues by 2030.  The new focus on social/environmental benefit, coupled with economic return, helps food businesses to innovation and helps recruit talented workforce, specifically millennials, who want to make a difference.  Other business opportunities include:
  • Synthetic biology to increase farming in urban areas
  • Leveraging technology to expose farmers, distributers, and consumers to facts
  • Utilize “big data” to inform development goals
  • Cultivating collaboration and innovation among farmers
  • Increasing water efficiency, safety, and quality
  • Creating forward-looking companies
Key Ideas on Food Science and Technology Situation: Food science and technology today faces a significant loss of faith and widespread public opposition, especially in the food technology’s relation with the food industry and global companies.  As the world faces major new challenges of increasing and improving the food supply for a growing population, opposition to food science and technology—the leading source of food revolutions in the past—is at an all-time high.    The food science sector will need to restore trust through better collaboration between academics and farmers, increased sensitivity to food safely and nutrition concerns of the public, and greater alignment of scientific-based solutions and food culture and values. Challenges: Most experts agree that to meet increased global food demands, crop yields per acre must be maximized, while also preserving the biodiversity that contributes to the higher nutrition of foods.  In meeting this goal, the food sector is also challenged by a suppression of entrepreneurship by regulatory and market-based push-back to food biotechnology.  Seven to eight companies own all the seeds in the world and all biotechnology research is funded and directed by them.  Transparency is required throughout the system so that the science and its products can be trusted. Food losses often occur before food can be harvested. This waste problem is one of many that may be solved by partnering with scientists and technology experts. However, collaborations between with scientists, academic institutions, and NGOs for practical solutions are often difficult. An underlying cause is demonization of food processing due to the advent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Additionally, collaboration among diverse cultures is difficult and compounds the challenge when attempting to solve these issues globally. Opportunities: Scientists agree that the following are necessary to enhance sustainability and prevent the marginalization of biotechnology:
  • Continuing to innovate to optimize food systems through biotechnology and other means
  • Using technology to reduce food waste can reduce the required food production from 70% to 20%.
  • Recognizing the true value of food will help achieve the right pricing structure as there are many     external impacts not included in the price of food
  • Involving the public in more science-based discussions about food can build trust and move appropriate technology innovations forward;
  • Increasing understanding among food scientists of the culture and values surrounding food;
  • Engaging private investment in agricultural innovation to make long-term commitments
Listening to farmers and the public is important to effectively promoting sustainability through innovation. The World Bank is working on “Climate Smart Agriculture” to raise agricultural productivity and food nutrition, increase resilience of farmers to climate change, and look for ways to reduce carbon emissions through agriculture. Key Ideas on Food Culture and Nutrition Situation: Food is not simply a commodity, nor is it simply a source of calories for the body.  Food is a cultural artifact, an expression of love and companionship, an expression of culture and identity.  Food is part of a complex historical and social set of meanings, memories, and values.  Food is also deeply connected with nutrition and health and tied into folk medicines and traditions of healing and wellbeing.  This complex interweaving of wellbeing and social tradition constitute the culture of food. Challenges: Today, many people and communities are not connected with their food.  Increasing numbers of people do not notice the quality of food they eat, know how it is grown, or where it comes from.  Food is increasingly a commodity distributed through commerce, disconnected from history, community, and family.  Increasingly food is also detached from the idea of a healthy diet or wellbeing.   At the same time, human behavior and the social determinants of health are being recognized as vitally important to health.  Producing more food is not enough.  The food produced, manufactured, and distributed must be nutritious and promote good health.  The food production industry favors large companies which prevents the smaller, more community-focused farmers to be viable. The culinary community fuels obesity by equating the size of a meal to value (i.e. the bigger it is, the more value received).  The introduction of processed foods shifted the connection of food and nutrition to consumption of more calories per meal.  People also have less of a cultural or religious connection to their food. Opportunities: A growing food culture revolution is underway in response to these challenges.  Consumers are demanding increased transparency on the content of the food they purchase and consume, as well as on the sustainability and ethical practices of the sources and the food supply chain.  Movements like Slow Food are reviving the traditions and pleasures of freshly prepared meals enjoyed in social settings and family. Farming is also undergoing a revolution with the growth of local, smaller-scale farms providing local food sources.  Crowdfunding, and other financial tools, are helping local farmers, providing independence from the large financial institutions tied to fast food.  Local communities are focusing on local food culture and their role in food production and distribution by starting community farms and gardens.  Social media allow farmers to connect directly with consumers and other farmers and chefs. The culinary community is also driving positive change.  More people are eating out - asking chefs to make food choices for them. Increasingly chefs are taking more responsibility to serve locally sourced foods and healthier meals.  Technology is educating chefs and consumers on different diets and cuisines around the world which can expand opportunities for healthy food and cultural experience. Because food that is best for health may also be the food that is best for the environment, shifting the message to “healthfulness” may be effective in changing consumer behavior.  By understanding behavioral nutrition, we can identify why consumers make unhealthy choices even with the right information.  Sustainability research and the consumer education on why it matters also provides opportunity.  New global ventures in food manufacturing, processing and production are focusing on the intersection of food, health and sustainability. Implementing more sustainable approaches in food and health requires a balanced public dialogue that engages research, the public sector, and the private sector. To read the rest of the five-year report visit here. This report was produced in collaboration with North Highland. Photo by Tony Webster via Unsplash.  

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
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The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.