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Pivoting Agriculture & Food Supply

By Colin Harrison





Like air and water, food is essential to sustaining our lives. As such, it should be sold at very low cost, so that even the poorest among us will not starve. This places great pressure on farmers’ incomes, particularly smallholder farmers. The UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO)[1] has estimated that there some 570 million farms in Earth, 90% of them smallholder or family farms, defined as smaller than 10 hectares (25 acres). The FAO also estimates that 30% of the world’s food is produced by smallholders earning less than $1.90 per day, the threshold for poverty among the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Poverty among farmers has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to be driven by climate change (hotter weather, droughts, fires, destructive storms, etc.) and the loss of farm land to housing developments as populations grow. At the same time, we need farmers to increase global food production to satisfy that growth.


Pivot Projects has sought “pivots” initially focused on smallholder farmers in Nepal and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). First, to rebalance the capture of value along the food supply chain between harvest and marketplace and, second, to reduce the losses of value due to spoilage and foods that are neglected or discarded post-harvest. We do this via local teams of university students and graduates and partnerships with critical technology companies.


The UN Climate Champions have designated "youth and public empowerment" as the theme for today at the COP26 climate conference. Our work with the groups in Nepal and DRC was launched and has been led in part by young people in those countries.


Pivot Projects is presenting an event in Glasgow during COP26, It's Time to Pivot, an element of the Malin Group's Spotlight series. It will take place in person and online starting at 1:45 pm UK Time on Nov. 6. The event is a conversation and a call to action to individuals and groups who want to pivot to a more sustainable future. Please join us!

Here's a blog post about Pivot Projects and the event, with a link to registration.

Here's the registration page.


Farmers do not have independent access and insight into markets due, in part, to a lack of understanding of how markets work. As hunger, food insecurity, and the impacts of climate change continue to rise, 83% of the surplus produce is never harvested[2].


Much of that surplus food could be processed into non-perishable material, providing an additional resource and additional income. Among the many challenges to agriculture and food supply, we focus on these two in both Nepal and the DRC (Congo).


Our solution for the first challenge is a mobile telephone-enabled IT platform with a speech-based user interface. This empowers farmers and pivots the way they operate by providing real-time information on market prices, demand, produce availability and transport as well as long-term education and training.The back-end provides AI-based Market Intelligence and advice on current opportunities. These tools will increase the farmers’ income and thereby motivate increases in production and decreases in waste.


Such a platform is becoming technically viable, not only in villages with electricity supplies and Internet cables, but also in remote areas through the deployment of photo-voltaic generators to power Internet base stations connected by radio to Low Earth Orbiting Satellites. The platform is also a vehicle for communication among members of cooperatives and other members of the farming community. The viability of such a platform is assured through fees paid by farmers from their increased incomes.


Our solutions for the latter challenge are firstly, micro food processing that can be performed in their homes by housewives or young people following short courses of training. Indigenous recipes are applied to unsold produce and to waste from commercial restaurants and processors. Secondly, consumers are educated to pivot to sustainable, plant-forward diets via a platform that provides reliable, accurate information about crops that are today neglected, but which can provide healthy diets without meat.


Consumption of these neglected crops and recovered waste will be promoted by campaigns[1],[2] to motivate dietary changes and by the inclusion of agriculture and food education in K-12 classes. This is urgently required to enable the next generation to adapt to changes in the availability, price, and sources of food under the impacts of climate change.


Agriculture and food supply are in urgent need of many forms of pivoting. These are our starting point.

[1] FAO-WHO Sustainable Healthy Diets [2] FAO True Cost Accounting [1] FAO Smallholder Family Farms, http://www.fao.org/economic/esa/esa-activities/smallholders/en/ [2] FAO Save Food!, http://www.fao.org/3/i2697e/i2697e.pdf


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This article is drawn from studies by the Cohorts 20 and 23 in the 2021 UN Food System Thought For Food Gamechangers Lab programme and by members of the Pivot Projects community.It is edited by Colin Harrison (colingeorgeharrison@gmail.com).

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