This page was created on Dec 24, 2010 and was last updated on July 14, 2012
Building glocal food ecosystems is part of the struggle for economical independence by addressing our most basic need, food. Building glocal food ecosystems is turning the global food system upside down. It is putting locals in charge of their resources and of the processes through which these resources are turned into necessities. It is humanizing the food system, putting the individual FIRST, by making Maslow's hierarchy of needs a priority. It is democratizing our food system by decentralizing it. It is also making our food system resilient and sustainable.
Many people are asking if this is actually possible. Don't look to the past to justify your opinions about the future. The world is changing dramatically.
There are three major trends that reinforce each other and drive the change towards a p2p food system.
At the smallest level, the family level, we have the DIY (do it yourself) movement, which has grown out of proportions with the advent of the Internet. People from allover the planet contribute to the creation of a knowledge commons about micro-farming, allowing individuals to grow their own food using almost entirely automated, close-circuit micro-farms. The open soft- and hardware movement interfaces with the DIY food movement, giving people versatile, modular, and low-cost tools to assemble their home-farming systems. This is a trend towards democratization of food production and consumption. This phenomena is also characterized by a very tight feedback loop between production and consumption. The individual becomes self-sufficient. And this is only the beginning. Some are studying small animals, insects, and even microorganisms as healthy sources of food, which are more suitable for micro-farming, even in harsh conditions. The future looks very promising.
At a higher level, the village level, we have the emergence of networks like Open Source Ecology and Apropedia, which are focused on solutions to a sustainable local economy. The urban agriculture movement is part of this same phenomena, same us using public spaces to grow food, marrying aesthetics and functionality. Like in the previous case, this movement builds a vast knowledge commons, and it goes further by recognizing the fact that in order to produce a greater diversity and quantity of food we still need to cooperate and to share resources. This is about a larger system of production and distribution, where the consumer of a product is not necessarily the producer. This movement renders small communities economically independent, and establishes a bottom up food system. Some movements that can be assimilated under this larger movement, like Transition Towns for example, tend to be somewhat isolationists and technophobes, which is not entirely aligned with the Multitude movement, but nevertheless contribute in a positive manner within the larger ecosystem.
At the regional and global level, we have the emergence of value networks, forming glocal food systems, integrating resources and processes from large geographical areas that can even span the entire globe. This is based on the realization that the new digital technology levels the field of information, analysis, and rational decision making. It also allows individuals and small organizations to form large collaborative networks with huge production capacity, rivaling with large corporations. As an example, we can imagine a crowdsourced project for the mapping of all regional resources relevant for food production, transformation, and distribution, using smartphones with GPS capability - see Wikimapia. We have economical models that can form the basis of a powerful inferential layer on top of a cowdsources resource map, which is a commons. We can imagine a web/mobile application with a user-friendly interface that assists individuals in performing advanced analysis of their local ecosystem, allowing them to make rational decisions about their operations within the food system. We can also imagine technology-assisted peer-to-peer markets and alternative currencies for value exchange within the glocal ecosystem. We are describing here a vast p2p agricultural system. All the pieces of this puzzle are there, we just need to put them together.
The multitude can now surpass in potential large corporations through collaboration and by using the new technologies effectively. Once we realize this, we can move to action!
How sensing technology can change the game... SENSORICA's point of view
At the core of a healthy economical system resides the relationship between producers and consumers. In a large economy deprived of efficient communication systems a third entity appears between the producer and the consumer, the middleman, a distributor. In this context, the producer is disconnected from the beneficiaries of its products, and the middleman bridges this gap, not only by establishing a distribution channel, offering producers access to a market, to a group of consumers, but also by giving feedback to producers about market demands. Moreover, the middleman has an advantage to mask the producer on the market by creating brands. Thus the producer becomes unknown, behind the screen of the brand, and the middleman can play different producers, leveraging his visibility and the access to the market to obtain a better price for products. History shows that in almost all such systems the power of the distributor increases in excessive proportions, to become a nuisance for the overall economy.
The distributor controls the flow of goods for a profit. There are different ways to increase profits:
The best example is the Wal-Mart network, which is rightfully criticized for choking producers and for spreading consumerism.
The agricultural dimension of the Multitude movement marginalizes the middleman. As we saw above, the DIY movement puts the producer and the consumer in the same individual, letting no room for an intermediary. The local and glocal food movements are building p2p exchange systems (markets), as well as open data and information systems, greatly reducing the role of the middleman.
See also about distributed transportation.
An important component of an economy are value exchange systems. They allow the value created to be exchanged between all the participants in the food system: producers, transformers, transporters, distributors, consumers, including other categories that support the community/society and therefore its economy. Money is one form of value exchange. Unfortunately, mainstream currencies have sucked in a disproportionate volume of value that flows within our societies. Closed and centralized monetary systems have reached very large proportions with the advance of the information technology. Banking is all about information processing and risk management. This information is context sensitive. The consolidation of the financial system goes hand in hand with the development of the information technology, with the ability to process massive amounts of context sensitive data and information.
The consolidation/expansion of the financial system has gone in different directions, covering geography, different types of economical activities, and even different types of value, some of which are incompatible with the mainstream currency, like knowledge or social capital for example. We have a tendency to project almost all value exchanged onto a single dimension, the mainstream currency. It has become almost impossible to create value without the use of money. This puts us in a very precarious situation, because our economy is now over-dependent on the financial system, which is one system of value exchange among many other possibilities. A financial crisis, like the one declared in the US in 2008, can paralyze an entire economy, which means that it can block production, distribution and/or consumption of value, even in a situation in which the equilibrium between supply and demand is preserved. The collapse of the financial system can block farmers from planting their crops for the hungry consumers waiting for them at the market. We realize that our economical system is not resilient because there is no redundancy in its systems of value exchange. We need to diversify value exchange systems!
The consolidation/expansion of the centralized and closed financial system was motivated by power. The dependencies created put the economy to the service of those who control the financial system, which is a huge leverage of power. It is not a secret that whoever controls the flow of value in society effectively controls that society. During the industrial revolution power was conveyed by the control of production and of channels of distribution. In the information age, because financial systems can be consolidated, controlling the value exchange system constitutes an even greater leverage of power. This explains why some elites have moved out of production in western (so-called advanced) economies, which has gradually moved into emerging economies like China, India... They have pulled out of it to move into new positions that convey even more power, into the financial system. The closed and centralized monetary system is in fact a modern mechanism for enslavement. There are now talks about a unique global currency, which would effectively turn the entire planet into a single farm, although a very unstable one. This one world currency project is not only evil, it is also impossible, because it goes against the new economical tendencies, which call for a variety of currencies, enforcing each others.
We need to rethink our value system. We must identify all forms of capital/assets and create adequate systems of exchange to allow their free flow. Not one currency for all, but rather different currencies specialized for different types of assets and for different economical contexts. Moreover, these different currencies MUST be open, and must rely on distributed trust, so that they can truly belong to the Multitude. Yes, this is a more complex value exchange system, but we now have the technology to take care of that complexity, to mask it, to transfer it behind a user-friendly interface. It's like driving a car. There is definitely much more happening under the hood of new cars, computers, sensors monitoring things, feedback loops adjusting things, but we don't see all that. The interface with the car is basically unchanged, 2 or 3 pedals, one wheel, and a stick.
More concretely, as Steve Bosserman points out, in agriculture we need human capital, natural capital , built capital and knowledge, among other things. In the situation we are in today, if someone has no access to financial capital it becomes almost impossible for him/her to participate in the food system. But this individual can have time, can have a piece of land, some sort of equipment, some knowledge... Al these forms of capital are frozen if financial capital is missing. The idea is to turn all these assets into currencies, so that they can flow, so that they can be exchanged as they are, so that individuals can put them together to set in motion economical processes like production, transformation, distribution...
In a healthy economy, the financier and the distributor have secondary roles. They are service providers between producers and consumers, they MUST NOT control/rule the economy. Economy is about production and exchange of value. If too much power is granted to distributors and financiers they will inevitably suffocate production forces and reduce society to agents of consumption. Evidence of this phenomena lies within official reports that talk about consumers and tax-payers instead of citizens.
The multitude movement restores the role of the producer. This is a natural process as the new technology becomes ubiquitous. It is possible now for the producer to maintain direct relations with the consumers. The role of the distributor within the exchange mechanism is greatly reduced. We are heading toward a more healthy economy!
The The Food Basket section shows producers of agricultural goods how to establish distribution networks
The Local food systems section describes a holistic approach to food production, value-added, and distribution.