Angelika Ploeger, professor with the Faculty of Organic Agriculture at the University of Kassel based in Witzenhausen, looked suitably studious as she introduced the first meeting of the Sustainable Security Systems Consortium in Berlin on Friday, 11 December 2015.
The SSS Consortium was founded in 2014 by an Irish SME and a Ukrainian research institute following several months of consultation with potential partners across Europe, ostensibly to seek funding from the EU’s H2020 Sustainable Food Systems programme (H2020-SFS), realistically to create a dynamic group of like-minded people.
During the following months, numerous potential partners from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, England, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain showed interest in the concepts and ideas suggested by the fledgling consortium.
These included active participation or scientific interest in indigenous food production, traditional food culture and sustainable food systems in the context of socio-economic food security. Potential partners were expected to subscribe to a trans-disciplinary approach, to embrace bio-economics, co-operative organisation, eco-innovation, eco-system approaches, food education, food production and processing, food science, marketing, bio / organic production and systems, resource efficiency, social-economics and value-added chain system dynamics (or market empowerment).
The desire to plan a strategy that would allow the consortium to construct H2020 proposals was compromised by a pragmatic consideration – the EU’s need for diverse consortia that reflected the complex nature of the proposal calls. This suggested a configuration with the required ability to construct work programmes and work packages and deliver end-game scenarios and solutions.
The consortium co-founders realised they needed partners with the necessary experience and relevant skills, and a partner capable of taking on the role of co-ordinator backed by a robust organisation – ideally this meant a university department or a municipal authority with a strong administrative core.
On 31 July 2015 Sisira Withanachchi, representing the Organic Food Quality and Food Culture section of the University of Kassel at Witzenhausen, suggested a collaboration. He introduced Bulgarian, Egyptian, Georgian and Italian partners.
A meeting to bring the founding, collaborative and potential partners together was suggested and the University of Kassel agreed to fund it. On the morning of 11 December 2015 in an unusually warm Berlin for the time of season, under a light fall of rain, the following partners made their way to the inaugural meeting of the SFS Consortium, vis:
Robert Allen of Small World Publishing of Ireland; El Sayed El Habbasha of the Field Crops Research Department in the Agriculture and Biological Division at the National Research Centre of Egypt; Vincenza Ferrara, Azienda Agricola 'DORA' of Italy; Alina Krastanova of the University of Agribusiness and Rural Development of Bulgaria; Angel Martinez of CTC (the National Technological Centre for the Food and Canning Industry) of Spain; Mykola Miroshnychenko of the National Scientific Center Institute for Soil Science and Agrochemistry Research of Ukraine; Vagelis Papadakis of the University of Patras and AEIPLOUS (Institute for Innovation and Sustainable Development) of Greece; Angelika Ploeger and Sisira Withanachchi of the University of Kassel, Organic Food Quality and Food Culture section, of Germany; and Teo Urushadze of the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at the University of Georgia.
They were joined by Sören Köpke, managing editor of the Future of Food journal, who agreed during the meeting to join the consortium as a sociology consultant and participant, and by Rami Al Sidawi, who recorded a photographic diary.
After the introductions, the partners agreed two proposals for 2016 and three proposals for 2017. Then they discussed the issues surrounding sustainable food security and rural renaissance.
Sectors and themes dominated the discussion, and the need to find a common cross‐sectoral keyword such as bio / organic, regional, sustainable or traditional. The criteria for the evaluation of product quality was discussed and included the following themes:
Resource Efficiency (‘less is more’);
To achieve real food security, the partners agreed, there had to be more activity that brought the farmer, fisher and small-scale artisan into contact with the dynamic of the value-chain system.
It was agreed that such solutions must “provide real benefits to rural producers” and “additional benefits for consumers”. These solutions could include workshops on local food contexts that benefit both producer and consumer, and marketing strategies that identify examples for specific products. Such workshops could be run in conjunction with food fairs or festivals where cookery demonstrations and product tastings complement the sale of locally produced food.
Food fair and food festival organisers should be encouraged to embrace the educational element (for both producers and consumers). Farmers and fishers should understand the need to add their own value to their produce by turning it into a food product, the obvious examples being bread and cheese , the less obvious being ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat products.
None of this could be done, of course, without EU-promoted innovation initiatives. It was agreed that the national and sectoral agricultural knowledge and innovation systems (known among the bureaucratic and scientific community as AKIS) were insufficiently connected.
The backdrop to the SSS Consortium meeting was the general feeling expressed throughout 2015 that EU member states desperately needed to formulate informed policy to communicate the issues surrounding sustainable food security. With the emphasis on “farming for tomorrow” the EU itself argued for communicable network systems and called for those with the expertise to submit proposals under the H2020 SFS call.
An international panel of experts had reached the same conclusion, that the tasks be placed in the hands of those with the expertise.
“Knowledge must be co-produced with farmers, food industry workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, and other social actors and movements who hold a unique understanding of food systems. Actors from fields such as public health, environment and rural development also have much to contribute to the debate on food systems reform.”
The SSS Consortium meeting concluded with a genuine desire to create a set of solutions that would resolve the issues surrounding network systems and the seemingly elusive model for workable sustainable food systems.
*This report is based on Robert Allen’s participation in the meeting, on the notes taken by Sören Köpke and by email exchanges in the months leading up to the meeting.