So it begins; I am off on my 2016 Global Focus Program known amongst our Nuffield peers, I am on what is referred to as GFP India with 8 other scholars. My travel mates are two dairy farmers Ray and John, Adam is a cattle rancher, Matt operates a banana farm, Jess is a government project manager, Ben is a manure specialist, Debbies works in farm extension and Luke is a crop farmer. These peers are sure to generate diverse perspectives to all of our upcoming meetings.
The GFP is focussed on comparing major aspects of food production; however I think it will be a very personal experience, drawing on aspects of a live social experiment by mixing farmers from various countries and industry backgrounds, assigning an intensive agenda and expecting a cohesive relationship to occur as we manage a group schedule, budget, research objectives, all while acting as national advocates for our agriculture industries back home. I feel very confident after our orientation in Singapore, that we are all up for the challenge! Our agenda through Singapore, India, Qatar, Turkey, France and America is sure to be rich in agriculture and cultural learning.
Fortunately, the three GFP groups known as India, China and Japan assembled in Singapore for a three days intensive orientation program fixed around team building, rule setting and encouragement of team dynamics in a neutral setting in whereby we are all adjust to time, food and cultural differences. At the same time, the industry speakers, visitors and visits set the stage for the agriculture economy in Asia, with Singapore acting as the hub of trading and logistics for the movement of good throughout the region.
Our Singapore orientation began with behavioural analysis to understand ourselves and team members known as a ‘DiSC’ assessment’ whereby people naturally fall into the categories of Dominance, Influencer, Stabilizer and Consciencious. No surprise here, I was a strong ‘C; consciensous contributor, focussed on accuracy with logical and systematic approaches to solving problems while adhering to a high standard. Fortunately, our group had a balance of contributors, including 2 Dominators, “the do it, and do it now” approach, 4 ‘I’s the ones who like to have fun, be involved with people and enjoy freedom of responsibility, we even had one ‘S’ who benefits from involving everyone in a safe, secure environment. Regardless of any testing, so long as we bring our best each day, respect others and have some ability to adapt, we are sure to have a great trip.
Essentially a city state, Singapore consists of a mere 716 square kilometres with 5.39 million people. This urban nation is known as the financial city of Asia, but more so over the past decade has evolved into the agricultural trading hub of the region with many corporate offices housed here. The annual GDP of Singapore is about $297Billion or a per capita of $55,000. It was great to be in a city so clean, organized and virtually no poverty was visible; admittedly the city was relatively expensive within the region.
Being hosted by ANZ Bank, an Australian and New Zealand based bank, we used their regional Asian offices for our meetings and speakers. Learning about the opportunities of agricultural goods and valued added products in the food and beverage space is one thing, but hearing a logistics specialist and driving through the he port area of the city triggered a high degree of interest about the vast amount of goods handled through Asia.
We were fortunate to have a speaker from each of Monsanto and Syngenta speak to the Nuffield group about supporting farmers and increasing their business into the Asian region. With limited support networks in place, these multinationals are attempting sell their goods, but also act as farm advisors. Comparatively, both firms bring their ideas of ‘sustainability’ in their goal of feeding the 9 billion people by 2050, but it still begs the question about simply selling more seed or chemical into a region. It will be interesting to learn as we travel into India if in fact these large firms carry the respect of farmers and are meeting their actual needs.
In learning about doing things differently, we visited Sky Greens, a vertical farming technology company that is developing hydroponic growing equipment that can be used in greenhouses, roof tops, urban buildings and beyond, all with an effort of producing more foods in less space. Coming from Canada where land, water, and space typically come with ease, it generates the question of what potential this technology has, particularly if food can be procured and consumed in close proximity.
The speaker which brought the most perspective more me, was that of Glenn Maquire, Chief Asian Economist with AZN Bank, in speaking about the challenges that lie ahead in the Asian markets, he brought to light the shifts that occur over time. Particularly in the changing wage and wealth structure in China shifting from a manufacturing powerhouse to services oriented economy, with the cheaper wages of Laos, Vientman and Myanmar becoming the next industrial based powerhouses of the region. This region is seeing unprecidented poulation growth, shrinking land base and pressure on water usages.
So many people, so little space and the continuation of change through wealth development, urban migration and changing diets have all created fascinating perspectives that I look forward to thinking about. So as we venture off into India with our GFP team, I am pretty excited.