I have to say I experienced something pretty special just the other week.
It was Global Table at the Melbourne Show Grounds earlier in September. Billed as an event that brings together the world’s brightest minds to solve our biggest food challenges, it had much to live up to.
But the event delivered – boasting over 3,000 attendees from 29 countries and over 200 speakers and 150 exhibitors. In one fell swoop it has become Australia’s largest Food and Ag-Innovation meeting.
The event incorporated the Global Food Summit, Seeds&Chips, hosted for the first time in Australia. I’d attended Seeds&Chips in Milan earlier this year (see previous blog) and found the event inspiring. Catching up with Marco Gualtieri, Founder and Chairman of Seeds&Chips, in Melbourne, was like catching up with an old friend. ‘The formulae of Seeds&Chips has been faithfully re-presented here. We’ve got a heady mix of inspiring plenary speakers, and each session is introduced by a teenovator, a term I came up with, that describes someone who despite their young age is changing the world through their actions. The talks and panel discussions are a mixture of young pioneers and experienced and respected experts and the trade shows focus on start-ups. It’s a great combination of experience and youth – which encapsulates the soul of Seeds&Chips – here at Global Table.’
He wasn’t wrong.
The opening plenary delivered by Secretary John Kerry, 68th Secretary of State for the USA, was truly inspirational. To watch and listen to a statesman of our generation get physically agitated by the sustainability challenges facing us, but also excited about the opportunities for change electrifies the audience. ‘Anyone who says there is a choice between jobs and prosperity or saving the environment is a liar. Delivering the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals will produce multi-trillion dollar industry opportunity. Technology and innovation are key to success – human created problems, have human solutions.’
‘There are 17 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs for short, including specific targets like zero hunger and no poverty, to achieve by 2030’ explains Kylie Porter, Executive Director of the Global Compact Network Australia. ‘Although launched over two years ago, they have taken a while to catch on in Australia. But we are now seeing a very rapid rate of adoption by a range of Australian businesses. In fact, in the last year there has been a doubling of companies aligning their businesses with the goals. Which is my favourite goal?…Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’.
The UN SDGs provide a wrapper for almost all of the activities and focus of Global Table. So, let’s have a look at some of the key themes and trends coming out of the event.
New foods and crops
The second day is opened by Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer for Mars. He presents an ambitious project focussed on orphan food crops of Africa. ‘These orphan crops have been staples of communities across the African continent for millennia, but are now being replaced by mass produced crops or nutritionally poorer processed products. Returning to orphan crops can offer a range of nutritional benefits that can address some of the malnutrition problems facing the region. Breeding these crops for improved vitamin A, iron, iodine, folate and zinc content can help combat non-communicable diseases such as night blindness, anaemia, cretinism, neural tube development impairment and stunted growth’. Shapiro outlines an ambitious program to drive the next wave of crop development on the back of genomic knowledge for Africa’s top 101 orphan crops driven by uncommon collaboration, with a diverse range of partners from the Beijing Genome Institute to Google, and by harnessing the people power of citizen science.
Australian native foods are also high on the menu at the event. A panel discussion, comprised of indigenous business leaders, entrepreneurs, supply chain experts and scientists, outlines the significant supply side and market opportunities for Australian native foods, both on this continent and globally. By the end of this session, complete with dancing, there is a room full of supporters wanting to be involved in kickstarting the Australian native food industry, and an appetite to establish an ‘orphan food crops of Australia program’.
As Matt Pryor, Partner AgThentic, points out, the future for the Agtech sector in Australia is very promising, but we need to understand our place in the global ecosystem. ‘Australia is a large place, with a diverse array of crops and farming systems, but with a relatively small local market. However, it can be the trial location and sand pit for a range of AgTech, particularly technology being trialled to move into new market areas. We also have a positive investment framework, robust IP systems and outstanding research institutes developing the technology that will be the next phase of AgTech innovations. Get this right and Australia can be amongst the global leaders in the rapidly developing and lucrative AgTech market.
‘It seems almost criminal that in a developed country like Australia, we should have so many families experiencing food insecurity’ shares Jim Mullan, CEO of SecondBite, a food rescue charity. ‘But we also waste more than a third of the food we produce, this is where organisations like ours come in, by rescuing safe food, that would otherwise make its way into landfill, and donating it to families in need. Improvements in the rescued food supply chain and matching of providers with those in need is an area of constant dynamism that needs improvements. Initiatives like the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre are also helping transform food waste into new high value products. But for me it’s more about addressing the poverty, hunger and social justice aspects of the UN SDGs, with a happy consequence that we are also reducing the amount of food waste’.
The debate around protein alternatives has been raging fiercely over the last year. Initial purges to encourage everyone to become vegan on environmental and health grounds have given way to a more nuanced debate. However pretty much all agree that we could do with eating less meat in Australia, which can be substituted by plant-based or other protein sources.
Thomas King, CEO of Food Frontier, recently published a report, Meat the Alternative, that predicts that Australia’s plant-based meat sector is set to contribute $3 billion to the nation’s economy and generate more than 6,000 full-time Australian jobs by 2030.
New plant-based protein products are breaking into the market all the time. Shama Sukul Lee, CEO of Sunfed, and plenary on the third day, has a new product just released in Australia – Chicken-free Chicken. ‘Texture is an incredibly important part of our food experience ‘ explains Lee. ‘Our product, made from yellow peas, is composed of long protein molecules which gives you the texture of animal protein. Once you’ve got that right then the product can be flavoured with a range of sources, but texture is key’. We tasted some Chicken-free Chicken for lunch – the verdict – pretty ‘chickeny’.
However the nutritional benefits of eating meat, particularly in developing countries, and the micro-nutritional benefits of consuming meat for a brand range of the population in developed countries is also promoted by Dr Sandro Demaio, TV presenter and CEO of EAT, the science-based, global platform for food systems transformation.
In addition, ‘Australian producers are responding quickly to the environmental and ethical concerns around meat consumption’, explains Professor Paul Wood AO. ‘We are starting to see carbon neutral livestock farming operations emerge in Australia and our meat is some of the most sustainably and ethically produced on the planet. Meaning Australian meat is a desirable, premium product set to rise in popularity globally’.
Posing an interesting question ‘Is the microbiome the solution to all of our problems?’, Drs Cuong Tran and Michael Conlon from CSIRO lead a panel discussion. ‘Our microbiome are the bacteria and viruses, fungus and amoebas that live in and on us’ they explain. ‘Our gut microbiome can effect our moods and immune response, and our diet is important to regulating our microbiome diversity and composition. However, exactly how we do this and the exact mechanism of operation is still a research frontier. So – is the microbiome the solution to all of our problems – potentially yes’.
This discussion wraps up an exhilarating week.
The 3 day meeting successfully profiled the UN SDGs, but more than that has motivated an influential support base to address them. But the key to success, as outlined by Secretary John Kerry in the opening address, is to harness the UN goals to support economic development and promote technological innovation.
If the Melbourne meeting is anything to go by then Australia is already responding to the challenge laid down by the UN SDGs and ready to take a seat at this Global Table.
Andrew Lowe and Sarah Treasure 10th September 2019
Article is extended version of piece originally published in the Weekend Financial Review – ‘Takeaways from Global Table‘ 14th September 2019
Feature image John Kerry; photo credit Global Table