The Pelletier Column My Wish List 2017
by Christophe Pelletier Another year just started. It is always a good time to reflect a bit. As I have focused my activities for quite a few years on how the future of food and agriculture can be shaped, I regularly come across a number of the same little flaws that, in my opinion, delay the progress we can make towards a prosperous future. Although the expression “keep it simple” is well known, it seems that we have a hard time doing exactly that. I am amazed by the number of situations in my work in which I meet incredibly complicated set-ups. It is almost as if we have an almost masochistic tendency to make our lives more difficult than they need to be. Let me be clear, food production is a very complex system, but why make it even more complicated than it is? Too often, the problem is that food producers carry too much old baggage within their systems. Problems happen and innovations bring solutions. Unfortunately, it often results in adding layer after layer of old baggage. Keep it simple! Once in a while, just imagine how you would set up your production if you were starting with no past history and were setting processes and systems anew with all the latest technology, knowledge and experience. Then de-clutter! It makes life a lot easier. Common sense is one of the things I would like to see more often. I remember a customer of mine who always enjoyed to say “With Christophe, if it makes sense he will deliver it; if does not make sense, he will say no”. I know I have sometime frustrated some of my customers but I always took the time to explain how persisting in error would only result in bigger problems later and they actually always praised my no non-sense style. Remember that food production is not an intellectual exercise but a practical one. A customer will not reward you for your being intellectually stimulated, but for your reliability, consistency and honesty. For the New Year, I also wish for more critical thinking. In these times of information oversupply and even fake news, it is quite easy to be misled. Sometimes, it is accidental and sometimes it is intentional. Nonetheless, it always pays off to never assume and to double check. I pay special attention to numbers. Simple calculations help verify whether claims are true or not. I am amazed by how often I see numbers presented to the public that do not 30 | January 2017 - Milling and Grain
add up. Some numbers look spectacular and get attention, but that is no reason not to do the math again, just to make sure. Another wish of mine is to see more listening and empathy, and less shouting and fighting in the debate about food. Too many arguments about this topic are a bit too Pavlovian for my liking. People are not rational, but they are always logical with themselves. It pays off to find out the logic and to have candid conversations. More than fighting about who is right and who is wrong, I prefer to see a focus on improving food production in a collaborative manner. Of course, it is easier said than done but it pays off because in the end, regardless of who is wrong or right, the customer is always right. The key for such a successful exercise is to use both our brain hemispheres and help our interlocutors do the same. How we will improve food and agriculture is really a balancing act between the emotional and the rational. Another item on my list is humility. Every day, Nature and chance bring new challenges and sometimes opportunities. It is essential to stay on our toes. It does not take much for problems to happen and it is necessary to never slip into complacency. In particular, always beware of good times. It is always tempting to see successes be the result of one’s qualities and systems and setbacks as being caused by outside factors. It is tempting but it is rarely that simple. Adversity is the true test. An area of excessive ambition that humors me is when it comes to feeding the world. I gently smile at statements such as “Insects will feed the world”, “Aquaculture will feed the world”, “So and so country or continent will feed the world”, etc... I smile because it sounds like we could feed the 10 billion of 2050 several times over. I say humor because it is more about excessive enthusiasm than a lack of humility. We will feed 10 billion – and I really believe that - through the combination of many foods and many production systems all over the world. There is no magic bullet. It will take dedication, work, innovation, market orientation and visionary leadership. It is a never-ending exercise. Christophe Pelletier is a food and agriculture strategist and futurist from Canada. He works internationally. He has published two books on feeding the world’s growing population. His blog is called “The Food Futurist”.