A handful of students as well as two professors from Furman were able to participate in the Planet Forward conference in Washington D.C. at the end of this past October. The planet forward summit had one main goal: To address the problem of meeting the food needs of a population estimated to be as high as 9 billion in 2050 while at the same time decreasing the number of malnourished or hungry currently in the world. To further complicate this problem, the world also has to prepare for some degree of climate change which has the unfortunate likely side effects of increases in diseases and pests. This conference covered the topic in a new way than other conferences that I’ve heard of by allowing those in the food industry, from chefs to Mansanto representatives and Biotech industries such as Bayer, be the ones who give the talks. All of this was live broadcast and anyone was welcome to use twitter to provide input which the hosts would address throughout the speeches.
Instead of simply summarizing the trip, I want to explain how useful I find programs like this. They not only expose our generation of soon-to-be leaders to important ideas and real debates concerning the very topics that our classes have been explaining, but they also show us how we can use this knowledge. Focused conferences like this even allow us to begin gaining some experience in the debate realm ourselves often times, as students either explain their research or talk with professionals in the field on an equal footing. Without this brief exposure to the real world and the real problems currently being faced as my generation begins heading into the real world, many of them with a passion to help solve these global problems such as food security, I feel we would be under-prepared and incapable of really thinking about the problems in a realistic manner. Classroom teaching is necessary, but even some of my professors have admitted that this is nowhere near enough for someone to begin really understand their major and abilities.
At the Planet Forward food summit they had a handful of college aged entrepreneurs who had actually already started making a significant impact in multiple different facets of the food industry. Sustainability has taught me to look at not just the direct outcome of a project, but the outreaching impacts which every problem and solution have. Not only did a member of this conference say nearly the exact same thing referring specifically to food, but with the four young innovators this idea could be seen. Two of the innovators were focusing on malnutrition and food supply, one by looking into a new source of protein that can more easily feed the developing nations’ growing appetite for high protein diets (insects) and the other by looking at 3D printing for food. Another one of the innovators was looking more at the social side of food and had developed a program that farmers could opt in to be connected to others in the general area. The system also gets information from the farms to look at trends in diseases, pests, etc to provide farmers with even more information which can prepare others for what they should expect (for example, they can see the center of a pest outbreak and thus predict which farms are likely to be hit next). The last woman was actually from Kenya and had worked there as an environmentalist trying to develop a cleaner burning fuel than the coal or oil currently being used for cooking while still being affordable. Her end product is a charcoal briquette made from plant scraps (corn stalks and the like) which is significantly cleaner burning, a huge health benefit as poorly ventilated homes have actually led to many women getting sick due to the smoke from the fossil fuels. Not only that, but this briquette is significantly cheaper than other options which then frees up more money for other uses. Seeing these four different projects which work to solve multiple different problem areas in food was inspiring. These individuals are only years older than students like myself, some even younger, and yet they are able to see the problem and really begin to change things in a positive way. It only reinvigorates my passion for sustainability and working to build long terms solutions which people can rely on without harming the environment, other societies, or their own finances. Seeing conferences like this prove that it can be done and is currently being done!