Wanted: Food for the Future

Food for the Future is a unique project in which the Province of Flemish Brabant, Rikolto (Vredeseilanden), Colruyt Group, University College UCLL and KU Leuven together with young people, experts, farmers, etc. look for ways to feed the growing global population in a sustainable way. Food for the Future wishes to fuel the debate by bringing together people from the business community, governments, consumers and civil-society organisations. Additionally, the partners literally want to ‘feed’ the debate from practice by setting up three sustainable food chains. They will be looking for tasty and nutritious products from the South that have a low environmental impact and, at the same time, offer the farmers producing the products new opportunities. The obstacles, opportunities and questions we encounter during this process will shape the debate.

By 2050, there will be over 9 billion people on the planet; 70% of which will live in cities. This demographic evolution will take place against the backdrop of global warming, land, resource and water scarcity, reduced biodiversity and increased social and economic deprivation and exclusion of farmers worldwide. Scientists expect that up to 50% more food will need to be produced in the current food system to be able to feed this growing global population.

Increasing production is not enough. What we produce and how we produce it is more important. The food system needs to provide products that feed the population in a way that is as efficient and healthy as possible, while having an environmental impact that is as low as possible.

Common goal, different perspective

Food for the Future is unique in its approach. This co-creative project combines the expertise of five partners with different backgrounds that will look for the ‘what’ and ‘how’ together. Thus, the project can be the start of a much larger movement of partnerships. Colruyt Group and Rikolto (Vredeseilanden) contribute their expertise in the field of chain development, making product chains sustainable and marketing the end products. KU Leuven provides academic support for the project, raises critical questions and documents the co-creative process. University College UCLL actively involves its students in development and elaboration of innovative ideas around development and marketing of sustainable and healthy food, thus stimulating sustainable entrepreneuring.The Province of Flemish Brabant involves young people, organisations, educational institutes, etc. thanks to its extensive network in the region.

The five partners have a common goal, but do not have the same perspective. This encourages them to enter into constructive debate, and do so without reservations or taboos. They do this by collectively challenging the different perspectives and putting the most pressing questions that arise from practice on the table. The five partners take a vulnerable position in doing so. After all, this is the only way the debate can be properly held.

Innovation from practice

The involvement of citizens/consumers is crucial for the entire project. The consumers of the future are the youths of today. Young people provide input for product development and scientific research, participate in taste panels, tell the story and critically review the project. Apart from that, teachers work with a lessons package ‘Food for the Future’, which submerges the pupils in the subject.

In order to nourish the debate from the practice, 3 products were selected, aiming at setting up a sustainable chain for each of them. Eventually, this must result in a number of sustainable products on supermarket’s shelves. To this end, we will use the following criteria: nutritious and healthy, ecologically sustainable and climate-proof, economically viable, relevant to the development of the local market in the South, socially, economically and/or ecological added value for the local producer, added value for the Belgian consumer, complementary to products from the North, ecological, economic and/or social innovation, etc.

Based on these criteria, pulses, Andean crops (such as quinoa) and seaweed were opted for. The three chains each have their own specificity. They allow us to focus on new things each time and, thus, telling a story that is as complete as possible.

Global story

Food for the Future transcends the traditional North-South division. Not only are the issues global, the chains themselves are too. It makes sense for us to also look for solutions that benefit everyone. After all, a nutritious and tasty end product begins with a healthy and honestly grown resource.

Attention for the local working conditions, participation, sales markets and development opportunities are just as important as economic viability, ecological footprint and the nutritional value. After all,– we cannot have one without the other if we want to equip ourselves for the future, and this is exactly the vision we want to promote.