Going Wide and Upstream

October 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m writing this post from St. Louis where I’ve been working with a team from Conservation International to facilitate a meeting of their Business and Sustainability Council.  This three day convening is focused on sustainable agriculture and has featured presentations from content experts including Dr. Jon Foley from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, who offered the short video above to summarize “the other inconvenient truth” we face around feeding a growing population against a backdrop of stressed water and land resources.  As the clip indicates, the challenge of sustainably feeding a global population of 9 billion (projected by 2050), if doable, will only be accomplished through extensive collaboration.  Furthermore, it is going to take going beyond many of the either/or debates (local vs. global, GMOs vs. organic) to embrace a full spectrum of strategies.  In other words, it’s not about finding a silver bullet, but rather the “silver buckshot.”

Another presenter (and friend of IA/IISC) is Hal Hamilton from the Sustainable Food Lab.  Among other things, Hal brings a deep commitment to exploring “pre-competitive” spaces to develop incentives for sustainable agricultural production.  He has shared an observation that often organizations are more prone to focus on where they have the most control as opposed to the most impact.  The greatest impact often resides in intervening upstream in the supply chain.  Given growing resource constraints more of us are being called to venture upstream and out into our broader networks to find the strongest leverage points for change.  Failure to do so could indeed mean famine of one kind or another.

A good question to ask ourselves then is “Are we being too narrow and overly focused on what we can most control to make change?”

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