Food Systems, Economies, and Ecosystems

What We Are Doing

Over the past three months several of us have made presentations to various groups providing an overview about the recently awarded USDA-SCRI grant proposal and our general strategy for the ensuing program. Our primary purpose is to facilitate the continuing development of local and regional food systems as a viable and sustainable counterbalance to the predominate global food system. Ideally, local and regional food systems work seamlessly with the global food system to form a total food system that provides the overall advantages of price, variety, and quality while contributing to community health, vitality, and well-being.

Local and regional food systems, together with renewable energy and distributed manufacturing, are an integral part of local and regional economies. The interdependence of these three features prominently in the design of our strategy. While the mission of our USDA-SCRI initiative is focused on food systems, when seen in the bigger picture these systems become a platform by which local and regional economies are established, strengthened, and grown. Building local and regional economies is our broader agenda.

A local or regional economy is shaped by the social, political, cultural, and geographic context and conditions in which it exists. Such an economy is defined by complex webs of interwoven interrelationships and behavior patterns. Because of this characteristic, our understanding of them is benefited by adopting an ecological perspective or seeing them as part of ecosystems.

There are several types of ecosystems: natural, human, urban, etc. Each of them is characterized by several factors such as participants, source – sink dynamics and flow, and landscape patterns. Using these factors to inform an ecosystem health index and provide insight on how well an ecosystem is functioning is of particular interest.

Such an index is especially helpful when determining which course of action among several alternatives achieves the imperative at hand with the least amount of collateral damage and unintended consequences or side-effects. An obvious instance is with agriculture because of its pervasiveness and the degree of environmental impact its practice has on a local, regional, and global scale. Under the aegis of the USDA-SCRI grant there will be ample opportunities to apply the metrics of agroecosystem health in helping local and regional food systems become more efficient, effective, and less disruptive counterparts to the global food system.

The Business Ecosystem

Adopting an ecosystems view is also helpful within a business context. In the mid-1990’s, Jim Moore observed the dynamics of natural ecosystems and noted the similarities they have with those in a business setting. He coined the term business ecosystem to label the dense webs of interrelationships among suppliers, service providers, customers, competitors, communities within a social, political, and economic environment in which any given business starts, survives, and is sustained.

Moore’s “business ecosystems” thinking has led to a unique and powerful understanding about business strategy and in so doing significantly expanded the business development repertoire. It has also encouraged the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in several areas. Perhaps the greatest experimentation with this approach has been Europe where the European Commission (EC) linked Moore’s concept business ecosystems concept with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to form digital business ecosystems. The primary purpose at the outset was to establish networks of connectivity among participants in SME ecosystems in order to stop the decline in the numbers of SMEs in several European countries. Early results show this strategy is successful as indicated by a reversal in the decline of SMEs complemented by signs of an increase in their numbers across the Continent.

Business Ecosystems in the Context of the USDA-SCRI Grant

Fundamentally, the strategy underscoring the USDA-SCRI grant proposal is the digital business ecosystems approach applied to local and regional food systems. The graphic below illustrates the flow dynamics among ecosystem participants in the interconnected regions across the upper-Midwest and mid-Atlantic states:

Social network facilitation, as part of the ICT backbone for the project, catalyzes regional networks and convenes leaders within them to prompt the formation of business ecosystems.

Business ecosystem particants conduct research, deliver education and training, and launch pilot projects directed toward building local food systems within given regions.

Local food systems development links with complementary efforts in renewable energy and distributed manufacturing systems to drive relocalization. This heightens participation at local levels which increases the experience base among players and drives changes in the formulae for land use practices, inclusion, workforce development, and government collaboration. The net effect is that the rules are rewritten so they facilitate the rise of functional and sustained local and regional economies.

Healthy, vibrant, adaptive, and innovative local and regional economies offer a constructive counterbalance to the global economy; they become attractors for new business start-ups and the expansion of existing businesses. Glocalization results as fully-functioning local and regional economies mitigate the downsides of the global economy and position the total economy for sustainable growth. Successful glocalization feeds larger regional networks of players and leadership of business ecosystems providing the wherewithal to fuel additional research, education, and pilot projects. This closed-loop cycling generates AND reinvests resources within the same local and regional economies which relieves the dependency on outside funding, like the USDA-SCRI grant, to spur local and regional economic sustainability and vitality.

A Broader Vision

The bottom line is that with thriving, interconnected business ecosytems, local and regional economies capable of maintaining themselves while spurring business growth and community well-being will result. Although the USDA-SCRI grant is directed toward social networks and local food systems, these are milestones along the path to a broader claim. Our vision is of capable local and regional economies operating in concert with the global economy to provide people with the means to enjoy a reasonable quality of life in communities assured of survival and sustainability. For us, this is the ultimate goal of the grant proposal. Thanks in advance for your participation over the next three years to make the vision a reality!

Originally posted to Local Food Systems by Steve Bosserman on December 27, 2008 17:04

Distribution Channels for Agriculture Equipment Systems in India

Overview

The long run of substantial growth in the Indian economy since liberalization in 1991 spread opportunities for business expansion and entrepreneurial start-ups in all commercial sectors, including agriculture. During the past decade and a half, noticeable gains in the purchasing power occurred for some Indian farmers. Their economic circumstances improved through the expansion and strengthening of infrastructure, rapid farm consolidation to take advantage of economies of scale, adoption of genetically modified cropping, and utilization of more productive agriculture equipment systems. However, there are 700 million farmers in India – the second largest block in the world behind China – and clearly, not all enjoyed the same level of benefit from the blistering economy as evidenced by the article, “India on Fire” in the current issue of The Economist.

Regardless of economic strata and chosen agricultural practices, all farmers are dependent on some type of agriculture equipment system to conduct their farming operations. The range of different equipment systems is quite broad, extending from low-investment handheld tools moved by draft animals to extensive, high-investment “packages” of machinery, computer systems, integrated software, and global communication networks. As with any complex marketing landscape, matching solutions with opportunities to make a difference for the customer and the company is essential.

The following graphic illustrates the interrelationships of the number of farmers, farm size, and market potential for sales of agriculture equipment systems.

The distribution clearly shows that 695 million farmers hold 80% of the arable land in India on farm sizes that are less than 2 hectares, approximately 5 acres, each. In fact, estimates suggest that 600 million farmers work on lot sizes that are each less than 1.5 hectares, or slightly less than 4 acres. This distribution is significant for several reasons, but one that features prominently when considering a marketing distribution channel strategy in India is population, both in terms of density and migration. As evident by the sheer number of people involved, unchecked farm consolidation, such as what occurred in North America and Europe since WWII, is not a viable course.

The infrastructures of urban areas in India would be quickly overwhelmed if even 25-30 % of the 700 million farmers scattered across India abandoned their rural homes in hopes of brighter futures in the cities. The challenge facing India, then, is to improve agriculture practices, increase output, and raise the quality of life for 700 million farmers so they choose to stay put. Not an easy mandate to meet.

Such distribution coupled with a wide variance in farming conditions within India’s agricultural regions and a diversity of farming methods and crop portfolios in each creates a complex marketing space that is anything but homogeneous. Developing a distribution channel strategy under these circumstances is problematic unless due consideration is given to the segmentation scheme and the value propositions for those segments.

Channel Design and Infrastructure

Regardless of segment, the design of distribution channels is dictated by the reach, capability, and capacity of three fundamental systems of infrastructure: information / communication technologies, electrical power, and roadways / waterways.

1) Farmers, no matter how remote, have to communicate: among themselves, with suppliers, downstream processors and retailers, government agencies, and financiers. The more direct the connections without brokers and middlemen the better. ITC has carried this point further than many through the implementation of their trademarked e-Choupal system. Comprised of self-contained solar-powered kiosks, satellite downlink stations and cellular microwave towers, and computers, nearly 4 million farmers throughout India are able to communicate by phone, access the information from the Internet, conduct online transactions, and make daily decisions about their farming operations.

A successful channel strategy begins with the virtualization of the products, services, and solutions so they flow through the information and communication networks to current and prospective customers. This constitutes a clear value proposition through improved decision making. It also establishes the first level of trust that the relationship between provider and customer is not exploitative, but mutually beneficial.

2) It takes electrical power for a farming operation to function, despite where it is located or what is in its business portfolio. Currently, India imports 100 million tonnes of crude oil per annum and is projected to import 300 million tonnes per year by 2030. In addition, India possesses the fourth largest coal reserves in the world. However, consuming it to generate electrical power in an environmentally sound manner is problematic and costly to resolve. To continue aggressive economic growth while not compromising the environment or being held hostage, politically, by unfriendly, oil-rich nations, India must develop alternative energy sources. In a press release earlier this week, Indian president, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, committed to put India on the path toward energy independence by 2030. Furthering the use of electrical power generated through renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geo-thermal, and biomass / methane is central to India meeting this long-term energy goal.

A successful channel strategy contributes to this in a two-fold manner. First, it discourages more dependence on oil by delivering agriculture equipment systems that do not require fossil fuels to operate. Second, it encourages the development, commercialization, and adoption of alternative energy sources to generate electrical power for agriculture. This enables farmers in rural areas where the electrical grid does not reach to have the technologies available to generate the electrical power they need. Also, as the grid becomes available they have the opportunity to draw from it as needed and transfer surplus power they generate onto it for revenue. This posits a value proposition that reduces the cost of farming operations and improves productivity and profitability. Furthermore, fostering an alignment of business interests with government intentions and policies establishes a second level of trust between the provider and customer.

3) As farm productivity increases so do variety and volume of inputs and outputs. Moving, storing, applying, and disposing of more and more material within the same block of time drives the food system to hit the limits of capability and capacity preventing it from working efficiently and effectively. India has a number of critical initiatives underway that target an overburdened infrastructure for receipt of more resources and assistance as evidenced in “Priorities for The New Millennium” by the Asian Development Bank. This is complemented by a continuing effort to setup Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that, in part, facilitates the building of critical infrastructure. It also has a dampening effect on population migration due to farm consolidation by creating jobs that can be filled by those who are displaced from farming operations. A speculative argument by Indian development economist, Atanu Dey, and Vinod Khosla advances a concept called Rural Infrastructure Services Common (RISC), that addresses rural population, infrastructure, and economic improvement. While not necessarily the answer, it does offer insight into the degree with which people of influence and power in India are aware of the issues and are searching for answers.

A successful channel strategy distributes information, methodologies, and capabilities to people engaged in agriculture so that they can work through or around infrastructure deficiencies or build-up the infrastructure so that it is no longer an impediment to growth. Of particular importance is the delivery of product and service packages primarily intended for agricultural operations but can serve a dual purpose in building, upgrading, or maintaining physical infrastructure such as roads and waterways. This establishes a value proposition based on multi-use applications for basic equipment systems thereby leveraging the investments by farmers and contributing to additional growth opportunities. Because such an approach does not place the farmer in a bad situation where the benefits promised by increased productivity are cancelled through losses due to infrastructure weaknesses, a third level of trust that speaks to a long term commitment by the provider to the customer.

To design a distribution channel strategy for agriculture equipment systems in India, it is a critical to first understand information / communication technology, electrical power, and roadway / waterway infrastructures then, respond to the business context established by them. As the graphic below suggests, the rate of adoption for various agriculture equipment systems varies from one segment to another depending on the size of the farming operation, the ability of farmers to take advantage of available opportunities, and the potential for sustaining the business. Projecting across a ten-year period, greater adoption, market share, and revenue will go to the provider of systems that span across the full landscape of Indian farming operations.

To try to sustain a growth strategy by ignoring the bottom-of-the-pyramid (BOP) representing the vast majority of farmers and tapping the upper-end who lead the adoption curve and have the most resources to invest will yield short-lived and unsatisfactory results. Accusations of exploitation of the masses will take its toll on reputation, incite resistance, and drag down sales performance as reflected in numerous press articles (“Farm Widows in India Fear Crop of Creditors,” by Aparna Pallavi and “The Tale of Three Widows,” by Jaideep Hardikar in India Together online magazine) and research papers (“Biotechnology and Suicide in India,” by Glenn Davis Stone) about increases in farmer suicides.

Moving Forward with a Distribution Channel

Given these dynamics, there are three steps in initiating, expanding, and sustaining a distribution channel for agriculture equipment systems in India:

  1. Take advantage of existing or supplement information and communication networks to disseminate valued information about agriculture in an Indian context to prospective customers. This is a low-price, high-value service with low entry barriers and costs that quickly establishes a first level of trust upon which additional value can be delivered.
  2. Expand upon the initial business information to include knowledge about the larger Indian economic and political “system” in relationship to technological developments and the realities of community life to deliver product and service packages that make a difference for the agricultural businesses, environmental conditions, and community stability. This is a moderately priced, high-value package of services and products from different providers that collectively leverages the investment of the customer while providing an acceptable return for the providers.
  3. Engage major players from industry, government, academe, and the community to affect larger, more capital-intensive projects that serve broader objectives to build more capacity and further improve productivity. This is a higher priced, high-value package of services, products, and solution management from a wide range of providers.

Essentially, this is an “infrastructure first” approach that endears the company to the people by putting in their hands the information, knowledge, and resources they need to be successful. This is the key differentiator among equals. It builds a trusting relationship based on the clarity of motive, integrity in deed, and delivery of what works for the majority before moving into more extensive and riskier endeavors that may exceed the customer’s boundaries of healthy speculation. This means that the marketers, the dealers, and the sales force must know their customers so they can keep them positioned for sustained success without overrunning their headlights. And this brings us back to best approach for partnering with the Indian farmer: focus on improving the infrastructure – it is THE winning strategy!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, February 3, 2007

Agriculture Megatrends: Ten Trends Redefining the Practice of Agriculture in the World

When I was growing up in south central Kansas, agriculture was a way of life – it was all around us in the form of wheat fields, cattle ranches, pastures, and gardens. Agriculture has had enormous economic significance throughout the history of Kansas, first, as a territory then a state. And it continues to be an important factor in shaping Kansas’ future. However, changing conditions over the past 60 years transformed the practice and scope of agriculture in Kansas: myriad family farms vanished through improved mechanization and consolidation of farming operations, absentee ownership of farms increased as farming businesses incorporated and adopted professional management in an effort to be competitive in a global market, significant tracts of productive farmland were lost to urbanization, and productivity of farmland became more unpredictable as precipitation patterns shifted, water tables dropped, and soil and ground water became more contaminated through unsustainable agricultural practices. While there are arguments both pro and con for the direction these changes took and their consequences, it is safe to say that agriculture is very different today than it was even a generation ago AND it will change even more with the next generation.

Changes in agriculture experienced by Kansans are not much different than those experienced by people in other states. The same phenomena of mechanization, consolidation, absentee ownership, globalization, urbanization, and non-sustainability have had similar affects throughout the United States and many other countries in the world. While the productivity / hectare or acre has certainly improved substantially over the last 60 years, the complications arising from less arable land, more distance from the point of production to the point of consumption, less oversight, and undesirable environmental consequences makes agriculture an even riskier endeavor than when success was determined by fickleness of the weather! If one extrapolates the next 20-30 years based on historical trend lines across the previous 60 years the picture for agriculture is not a particularly rosy one.

But just as mechanization had a profound disruptive effect on agriculture over 100 years ago, there are forces at play today and into the near future that are going to have a similar impact. My contention is that agriculture, rather than being relegated to the ranks of the mundane, mistreated, and maligned, will witness a rebirth into a new golden age. Whereas agriculture meant wheat, hay, and livestock when I was a boy growing up in Kansas, today, it extends across a full range of plant and animal applications: food for human consumption, feed for animal consumption, fuel, fiber, floriculture, horticulture, and nutraceuticals to name a few. This broader scope, when prompted by rapid and far-reaching developments in information and communication technologies and placed into the context of Marshal McLuhan’sglobal village“, opens the door to examine agriculture in a more approachable, personal, and wholistic manner. Agriculture is reinstated to a more historically accurate location – an explicit, integral part of our lives, individually and collectively, and our world.

The purpose of this posting is to introduce ten agriculture “megatrends” – to borrow from John Naisbitt’s 1988 book, MEGATRENDS: TEN NEW DIRECTIONS TRANSFORMING OUR LIVES – that portend a renaissance for agriculture. Together, these offer a framework within which further details will be added. For now, though, the highlights:

Agriculture Megatrends: Ten Trends Redefining the Practice of Agriculture in the World

1) Growing concerns about the depletion of fossil fuels, the environmental impact caused by consuming them, and the consequences of paying those who do not have the best interests of others at heart for the fossil fuels is contributing to an increased investment in bio-fuels, biomass, and bio-energy.

Renewable energy from plant material and animal waste will continue to be a high-growth area.

2) Modifying a crop portfolio to include more plant material for fuel rather than food or feed equates to less food and feed UNLESS more land is put into production and productivity and output per unit of land is increased to make up the difference. This means that land in urban and suburban areas formerly dedicated to non-edible, non-fuel uses such as lawns and landscaping will be converted into higher value uses.

Localization of agriculture will be a high-growth area.

3) Raising crops for food and feed or fuel and fiber requires more production with less cost on smaller land sizes. This leads to a continuing emphasis on genetics either by modification or selective breeding to make significant improvements.

Genetic research and applications of genetically modified or selected characteristics for valued crops will be a high-growth area.

4) Using seed stocks with uniquely valued characteristics warrant tight controls through growing, harvesting, and post-harvest handling to assure purity. This promotes the application of techniques like RFID tagging and tracking to maintain an audit trail of traits, conditions, and treatments from end-products to their source.

Traceability will be a high-growth area.

5) Knowing that fresh food is grown without the use of certain fertilizers, pesticide, and herbicide is of increasing importance to consumers. The classification of “organic” is gaining ground as a way to assure food is grown and prepared according to specific guidelines that preclude the use of these chemical applications.

Organic food production will continue to be a high-growth area.

6) Curbing the release of carbon into the atmosphere is complemented by absorbing it into plant material and converting it into sugar and starch through photosynthesis. As more countries adopt broad-based systems to manage carbon credits more interest will be shown in selecting crop portfolios that take advantage of carbon credits as well as other value.

Carbon sequestration will be a high-growth area.

7) Recycling water, waste, and unused raw materials is becoming a more important consideration to increase efficiency and prevent unnecessary losses. This leads to a more systematic integration of farming practices along with the management of waste and by-products. Such systems offer wholistic approaches to year-round food production in temperate regions with a minimum of energy consumption, maximum utilization of inputs, and reuse of unconsumed outputs.

Integrated farming and waste management systems will be a high-growth area.

8) Decentralizing the generation of electric power and making electricity the common energy source for the vast majority of people worldwide is a mounting imperative. This invites the possibility of those who live in yet-to-be-electrified rural areas of the world to generate electricity through wind, solar, methane, or geo-thermal and use that energy to meet the needs of their agricultural, business, and domestic operations self-sufficiently off the grid. The development of a full array of electric-powered equipment in all price ranges is a natural complement. Of course, as the grid reaches out to more remote locations it will be a straightforward way for those who are generating electricity by whatever means to sell their surplus and draw upon in times of peak usage.

Electrification of rural areas and agricultural and multi-use equipment, especially with VERY low-cost solutions, will be a high-growth area.

9) Increasing agricultural production in widespread areas as well as concentrating agricultural operations in urban, suburban, and near rural settings requires new ways of moving and storing the output from the point of production through processing and preparation stops along the way to the point of consumption. Issues of food security and food safety coupled with the management of inventory to assure the least amount of loss while delivering the highest degree of freshness and quality are critical. This applies to inputs as well as outputs and touches upon the coordination among diverse growers for individual production portfolios.

Agricultural logistics and complex production management will be a high-growth area.

10) Forming, utilizing, and managing connections between and among agricultural producers, suppliers, logisticians, and customers is essential for effective business relationships to develop and transactions to occur. Whether wirelessly or by landline by voice, written word, or graphics, there are many ways to communicate and transfer information. The most important step is having the information and communication infrastructure to reach anyone, anywhere at anytime so that knowledge and insight about markets, prices, costs, pick-ups, deliveries, funding options, investments, etc. can occur expeditiously and consistently.

Information and communication technologies will be a high-growth area.

While these megatrends are introduced individually, the reality is many of them work in concert with one another to form an infinite variety of complex solutions addressing a wide range of community and commercial opportunities. Future postings will not only elaborate on each trend, but will showcase those combinations that provide additional value through interconnection and integration. More to come…

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Thursday, February 1, 2007

Integrated Agricultural Economies

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Confessions of a Chocoholic — It’s All in the Bean

A couple of weeks ago I was visiting friends and noticed a Christmas catalogue from a German chocolatier on the table. Thumbing through it my mouth watered with the turn of every page. This visual distraction was converted into a topic of conversation. Soon, the only recourse was to raid the pantry of its Belgian chocolates and indulge our chocolate fetish. Wow!

Beyond the selection of finely-crafted chocolates featured in the catalogue, there was a section on the history of the company, some tidbits about chocolate-making and general comments about the source of chocolate – the cacao bean. I decided to research chocolate a bit further. This turned out to be quite a learning experience.

Information about chocolate is easy to find. Google has 66,500,000 hits on “chocolate” and 3,410,000 on “cacao.”

Wikipedia

The theobroma cacao, which means “food of the gods,” is an evergreen tree, native to the tropical regions of South America. Each tree has 6,000 flowers that produce maybe 20 pods. Each pod contains 20 – 60 beans. It takes 300 – 600 seeds to produce 1 kg of cocoa paste.

Field Museum

There are 592,000 Google hits on cacao production. Like most agricultural products, there is a general production process for cacao that is millennia in the making yet heavily influenced by scientific and technological developments over the past two hundred years. The pods are harvested, cut open, fermented (sweating), dried (cured), and packed in the first phase of processing. Then, the seeds are sorted, cleaned, roasted, cracked, fanned, and winnowed to separate nibs from shells in the second phase. In the third phase, nibs are ground into chocolate liquor (cocoa paste). Then, some of the liquor is pressed to render fat (cocoa butter) and the coarse leftovers are dried and ground into cocoa powder. The remainder of the un-pressed liquor is mixed with condensed milk, sugar, and extra cocoa butter form a crumb which is refined, conched, tempered, and molded into chocolates.

Much of the first phase of processing – harvesting, opening the pods, fermenting, drying, and packing – is done the same way it has been for centuries. It remains labor intensive since mechanization is not possible and several steps can only be done by hand. In addition to the physical work there is considerable human judgment involved in deciding which pods are ready to be harvested, monitoring fermentation, and controlling drying so that the result – the bean – captures the full richness of flavor and quality possible. This requires considerable skill and experience on the parts of those who are involved in this phase.

Designer Traveler

Because the cacao bean, the key raw ingredient required for making chocolate, can only be grown in certain tropical regions around the world, it’s price per pound is exceptionally high. That price is driven up by overseas buyers from Europe and North America who process the cacao but cannot grow it themselves. This is the reason cacao-growing countries like Ecuador don’t have a strong chocolate-making culture despite having the perfect cacao-growing conditions. The cost of the raw ingredients is just simply too high for the local consumption.

The cacao “Nacional” is sold in Europe as an elitist gourmet-product and gets prices up to 50 Euros per kilogram, whereas at the beginning of the production one kilogram costs only 0,58 Eurocents.”1

The post-harvest phases are highly mechanized thereby substantially reducing operating costs and improving consistency of quality and output. Considering a nearly 100:1 ratio of finished chocolate to packed cacao beans, this concentrates revenue AND profits in the later phases. It leaves very little for skilled labor conducting first phase work.

Because of high labor content, keeping the cost for labor low is an imperative. It can lead to abuse of the workforce without respect for the value and criticality of their knowledge. The most severe form of this abuse is slavery.

Food Empowerment Project2

There are 940,000 Google hits on slave labor chocolate industry. Slavery is not a new problem. Still, it challenges one’s sense of assumed social, economic, and political progress to think that the institution persists.

Dissident Voice

There are 6 hits on Google News about slave labor in the chocolate industry. There is nothing available that shows the current situation in real-time – a ground truth benchmark – but indications suggest the practice continues. It is, as it turns out, an engrained part of a colonial system setup centuries ago to facilitate exploitation. That system will not change easily because it pays-off.

TransFair USA

There are 1,330,000 hits on Google for fair trade certified chocolate. It suggests that if a sufficient number of people buy from stores or sources that sport the Fair Trade Certified label the system will change because the pay-off changes. That means changing the buying patterns of people. This means informing them about critical factors they need to take into consideration when they buy certain products, making the process of buying the products they need and want through alternative channels as easy, or easier, than conventional channels, and assuring availability with competitive prices. A tough call.

Ithaca Fine Chocolates

Equal Exchange

There are 7,900,000 hits for chocolate bars on Google. Two weeks ago I would have taken any of them. Now, I’m keeping time to a different drummer. A system changes one conversation at a time. In this case, it is one chocolate bar at a time!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Friday, November 25, 2005

  1. http://www.ecuadorline.com/ecuador/newsletter/Newsletter200501.htm Original article quoted no longer available
  2. http://www.showmenews.com/2005/Feb/20050214Busi010.asp Original article no longer available

Introduction to Social Agriculture

In his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond posits that agriculture is the foundation upon which civilization is built. Nonetheless, this association is not without certain complications. Some activist authors such as John Zerzan take an extreme stand that agriculture is the bane of true civilization. On the other hand, historian and author Fernand Braudel brings a less judgmental perspective in his trilogy, Civilization and Capitalism: 15th-18th Century. He focuses his historical inquiry on the everyday experiences of those whose daily lives were lived at the crossroads of a burgeoning agricultural society and the rise of capitalism. Yet again, there are other writers such as Heather Pringle who, in her article, “Neolithic Agriculture: The Slow Birth of Agriculture”,” softens the view further by holding that the birth of agriculture occurred in the Neolithic Age prior to the large-scale cities and far-reaching civilizations. Plant and animal domestication during this period did not bring with it the adoption of a social dominance model which appeared later. The range of these three suggests that the association of agriculture and civilization has considerable room for further exploration!

The application of strategic frameworks facilitates the exploration of ideas and intellectual spaces. This is certainly the case in the association between agriculture and civilization. As the convergence of technology, energy, environment for life at the point of human equivalence draws nearer, agricultural practices will change dramatically.

In the diagram above, the combination of technologies that are faster, smaller, more integrated, and more intelligent fuels a bifurcation in production agriculture. Agricultural practices that yield what people use in petroleum, fiber, and industrial applications take advantage of economies of scale and promote globalization and commoditization. Meanwhile, those agricultural practices that result in what people eat such as nutraceuticals, place-based specialties, food with specific qualities (organic, faith-based, ethnic), and livestock, leverage economies of place and tend toward localization and customization.

The dichotomy prompted by the bifurcation of production agriculture feeds a creative tension along the continuum of fossil-fuel energy —and renewable energy that if usefully applied, has the potential to bring the association of agriculture and civilization into a more favorable balance than at any time in human history. As condition reports are received through different media about changing conditions and circumstances in production agriculture they can be tied to the “strategic framework” suggested by the diagram and organized into meaningful actions on the continuum in response. And given the advances that are on the horizon this topic of agriculture, civilization, and technology will provide ample fodder for future consideration!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by –Steve Bosserman on Tuesday, August 30, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005