What is your food culture? #NuffieldAg

View of the Siene River


Lunch time views

I am literally sitting along side the Seine River with my half eaten lunch. You see, we were tight for time today and opted out of an extensive French, four course lunch; instead we stopped by a supermarket for a baguette. But, I made the mistake of starting to eat in front of the store to save time. To our French hosts disgust, she insisted to at least travel to the river to sit and enjoy our simple meal. 

Simple Indian cuisine, served at the sugar factory


It dawned on me, our culture is fast food! It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always McDonalds, but rather we as a nation are always eating on the run!  Think about it, how many Timmies have you drank today? Was it in your car or the perpetual pot brewing in the office? Throughout my travels, the tea and coffee has been served strong, small and always with time to enjoy.

Traditional Qatari Meal


In four weeks on the road through India, Qatar, Turkey and France we have always taken time to eat and enjoy. The food may have been simple rice and curry in India, the numerous soft drinks and water at every stop to the Turkish coffee that was served multiple times a day through our abbreviated trip to the troubled nation. You see the food and drink is equally as important as the conversation that comes with it. 

Typical French, multi course meal


In France, I think it’s all about the food, literally the four course lunches, the cheese that accompanies each meal, pastry and how could I forget about the baguettes!

When it comes to diversity of food the amount of lamb, duck and seafood I have eaten in the past few weeks out weighs these quantities in my diet over the past year.

It’s the company you keep


But it’s interesting to consider, I’ve found other nations have a closer understanding to their food, whether it’s the Halal market where people watch their lamb slaughtered. The Indian’s eat their rice, naan and largely vegetarian cuisine. The Turks enjoy fresh and simple meat and produce served on platters to enjoy in groups. Then there is the French where red wine flows with duck, pate and plates of cheese. 

So I ask myself, what is our food culture?  So next time you take an extra large double double, eat while you drive or watch television with dinner, what is your food culture?

The French love their wine!

No Place Like Home, Happy Birthday Canada #NuffieldAg

Media at Ataturk Airport

So long, farewell, until next time!


If the past three weeks have only taught me one thing, it’s that Canada is a wonderful country to call home. We have safety, security, food, land, water, respect for others and an approach to life that respects culture, as well as a legal and economic system which supports a very large middle class. 
I know Canada isn’t all roses, we’ve had our own issues with violence, we have homelessness and people on the fringes struggling through mental illness, some of you may not agree with our government leaders, and as farmers it’s always too dry, too wet, or the price is too low.

The turning point for me this week  happened in Turkey. For the first four days of our visit, having been warned about violence from family, news reports, and country experts, I was very optimistic about this country. The people we met were genuine and friendly in this country that has this odd appearance of part eastern European, part Mediterranean, but what we didn’t see is the part of the country bordering onto the Middle East! 

On Tuesday evening, three suicide bombers killed 40 people and injured 200 more in Ataturk Airport, in the same area we walked through four days earlier. Even more remarkable is that the airport reopened within hours, the blood was cleaned up and I walked back through the building 39 hours after so many lives were destroyed!     

I asked a young fellow who interpreted a meeting at a local dairy, were you shocked about the violence the day before at the airport? His response was no, he is more surprised on days where somebody isn’t killed! Given the large military, the shared borders around Syria and Iraq, frequent attacks on military gave way to many casualties never picked up by foreign media, it is that which makes me sad for Turkey. You see Turkey is a country where there is diverse culture, on the ballet to potentially join the European Union, one where they control shipping channels to Russia, where land, water and labour are still available to produce food, a place where 80 million people call home, it’s the gateway to the Middle East. 

So as I end this post about Turkey, it is a great country with so much opportunity. At no time did I feel unsafe, it’s that the attack did create uneasiness for me and others in our group and particularly those at home, so as we departed through a well secured Ataturk airport, analyzing every face I saw, it made me realize how appreciative I am of Canada! 

In the past three weeks I’ve seen congestion, massive population, and a historical class system that divides poverty and wealth in India. Qatar, a country of wealth, driven by oil, but ruled by Islamic culture and now Turkey, a land of opportunity, but tarnished by varying fractions of cultural difference. 

Oh Canada, our home and native land, 19 more days and I’ll be home. Happy 149th Canada!

Gallipoli War Memorial

Turkish Flag

Qatar, Where Money Flows Like Oil #NuffieldAg: A Video Blog

Qatar, Because they can.

My Nuffield journey made a pleasant stop in Qatar. Our four days in this wealthy nation demonstrated what is possible when money flows freely.  Combined with travelling over Ramadan, the middle eastern culture gave a glimpse of their relationship with food in this country that relies on imports.

Given the past couple of hectic weeks, we were fortunate to spend and afternoon experiencing desert life!

India – Cooperative Farming: Social Responsibility or Capitalistic Hierarchy, #NuffieldAg #IndiaGFP 

Buffalloes & Cows Everywhere

Women, key to agriculture success in India

How does a rural based economy in a country where the population exceeds 1.3 billion people function? The Indian model is largely based around the cooperative model. As a Canadian, I think of co-ops in forms of supplier/processor relationships, based more around business opportunity for growers compared to the sole option for farmers. For Indian farmers, their government set out to develop their model over 50 years ago as a mechanism to provide stability to rural villages, after all, if you only have a few acres or one cow, individuals do not demand market power.

Travelling from bottom to top of India, we came across many forms of cooperatives including all forms of production, cotton, corn, milk, sugar cane to name a few. These cooperatives were for the most part based around the geography of the local village. With each group, came their own level of politics, elected representatives and overlaid the class system at play. In other words, farmers aren’t just farmers, some are seen as superior due to their pedigree, which essentially flexes control over others. 

As seen first hand, our first introduction to the cooperative model was back in the village of Kothapalli where the water project was initiated by the research institute. The local farmers pool their resources and rely on a commodity buyer (middleman) to visit their village and arrange purchase of their goods with small farms averaging between 3 to 5 acres of land. The cooperative model also offers opportunity for non land owning villagers to work employment, such as receiving, grading and managing delivery of product. 

A dairy collection site


A secondary benefit of cooperatives is the willingness to work together. The Indian government is slowly realizing the true value women bring to society and economy, they now provide mico financing to women’s groups. A great example of empowering women through cooperation was a group that purchases grain distillers from a local brewery everyday, in turn it sells back to farmers to improve dairy productivity, while providing employment for local ‘feed sales rep’.

Sugar cane


Our first feel good cooperative visit was offset by travelling to meet in the village of Valsad. To be clear, organized buying units ensure constant supply of sugar cane is grown for the local processing plant is important because it does guarantee purchasing local. As unequivocally spoken, all profits are supposedly returned to farmers, however driving through the back roads of India, our host Ramesh insisted many of these farmers will have never seen a foreigner. When driving into the sugar processing yard, we drove past many large Toyota and Mercedes vehicles to meet the chairman of the co-op. 

Cameras and more cameras

TV interview on Canadian ag, sugar & organics


A kind and gracious host in Valsad, we were welcomed with flowers, drinks, food, a camera crew and photographers; a very strange situation. Upon seeing first hand the test plots of a beautiful crop of sugar cane, one grown ‘organically’ and the other conventional. I use the quotations, because given there are few organic certifying bodies in India, the huge labour force to manually remove weeds, but a need to still use commercial fertilizers, I am personally challenged by this notion of organic. 

In speaking with a group of farmers, we were known as International Scientists’ here to look at organic production in conjunction with their newly launched ‘organic fertilizer’ business. You see, the cooperative power was working at full strength, telling the uneducated farmers what and how to grow their crop, use their new fertilizer product and essentially develop ‘close enough to organic’ sugar to be potentially exported. Keep in mind, these are all my opinions, but our Nuffield Team termed a phrase ‘Gotcha’, meaning one person breaks the circle of trust and effectively takes advantage of other people. In the case of the sugar cooperative, money and profit flow outside the cooperative to those with influence. In addition, as a Nuffield Scholar, I had a ‘Gotcha’ moment, knowing full well our visit was interpreted to locals for corporate betterment. Again, in India this visit for me became not about sugar cane, but rather the distribution of power, wealth and influence dictating what and how things will be done.

Amul Dairy Cooperative, Anand India

Meeting with Amul, India’s largest dairy cooperative


Amul, India’s largest milk processor was our third example of cooperative marketing. Given that most of India’s dairy farmers own three or four cows and buffaloes, collecting and distributing milk is no small feat. Nearly 70% of all milk is sold farmer to consumer directly, only 30% sold through dairies of which 20% goes through co-ops and the balance through companies. At the Anand, India site, they represented 680,000 farmers of the 2.5 million farmers in the state, 1.3 million cows and buffaloes, utilize 1220 village collection sites as well as 35 commercial farms with over 100 cows! Amul has 17 sites in India similar to the one visited.

Each collection site or village, acts as their own cooperative, gathering, cooling, testing components and paying the farmers. In addition, each farmer must own shares of Amul to ship milk, the returns are in line with the fixed price of milk set out by the government as part of their food security system. Known as the White Revolution, dairy cooperatives were established in 1964 to ensure fair market pricing. Today, at the Anand site, they collect 2.5 million litres per day, but the coop as a whole, averages 18 million litres per day, filling 3% of the Indian market.

17 sites around India

Indian fluid milk sold at fixed price for everyone’s access


At Amul, farmers are paid a base price, bonus and dividend based in share ownership. Interestingly, the dividend may be paid out by way of a new pail, milking equipment or money. The cooperative model is alive and well, because through Amul they have access to breeding technicians and veterinarians on staff, as well, farmers can opt to sell their young stock and repurchase if needed. One major issue is ‘the sacred cow’, literally, cows are considered sacred (bulls and buffaloes are not sacred), so if infertility strikes, farmers cannot slaughter the cow, therefore it can majorly increase the cost of production, hence the number of stray cows and use of Buffaloes. Arguably the outward signs of cooperative success were evident, but more so the upside opportunity because if the size of unregulated milk markets is huge in India.

To refer back to my tittle, India – Cooperative Farming: Social Responsibility or Capitalistic Hierarchy, my experience is clear, organizing millions of small scale farmers have been effective and will continue to be so in the future, but as economies evolve, wealth accumulates and the divide between the rich and poor widen, the system is open for interpretation and ultimately abuse. For me, evolution of these cooperatives will come through involvement, education and a desire for the upper class to raise the wealth of the peasant farmer and not take advantage of their position of power, because it is easily done.

India, where to begin? #NuffieldAg #IndiaGFP

My Nuffield experience has been filled with sights, sounds and smells that can overwhelm anyones senses. Without a doubt, the first few minutes of India provided insight into this country that straddles the boarders of extreme poverty and significant wealth. The basics of life, including access to clean water and sewers, employment and continuity of an orderly life were not easily recognizable to me, a simple guy from Canada. But what is clear, the Indian population has evolved with a social and economic structure that relies heavily on local communities, villages, simply trade among local people to make this enormous country of 1.3 Billion people function. 

I am not going to lie, my very first images were people, congestion and the public filth and garbage was shocking, something that I can’t still wrap my head around. My initial reaction was one of ‘it’s not my problem’, however in contrast it is their lives and I am a visitor, but it begs the question of respect of others and property.

As an outsider visiting the country interested in farming practices, production and marketing systems for 11 days, gathering highlights from the south in Hyderabad and Mumbai to the north in Punjab has been a whirlwind task. There have been several key visits and hosts that graciously gave us a taste of India. Perhaps above all, my key learnings have focussed around the culture and sorting through the hierarchy of how agriculture business is done here in India.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) was an excellent place to begin our study in India because they got us into a local village to meet farmers and see first hand the extension projects being done. Hosted by Dr. Peter Carberry, the first words out of their mouths was ‘water’, a theme that followed us all through India. Situated on 3500 acres, donated by the Indian government in the 1970’s, the program provides research focussed on seed development around their core crops of millet, peanut, sorghum & chickpea. The institute maintains their core genetic seed material used in Asia, but also in semi arid regions of Africa, thus their global reach of developing nations is significant.


The village of Kothapalli has been a model project where ICRISAT invested in the village to develop water dams, reservoirs, wells and channels to better utilize the high rainfall during the monsoon season to offset requirements throughout the years through irrigation. As simple and life changing as providing water can be, it wasn’t without challenge as these farmer villages needed buy in, long term support before change was accepted. A fascinating look into village life made us all realize women do much of the work, but the men like to handle the money. Going back to ICRISAT, they have strived to empower women as key agents of change to ensure social and economic value is shared. Remember, these farmers have only a few acres of land, trade through ‘infamous middlemen’ and rely heavily on the social mechanisms of cooperative farming. It was a fascinating glimpse at this local business where people seemed quite content. 


Research is one area at home that is highly disputed with anecdotal and non factual information through social media clouding reality; to me here in India, research at the basic level is about feeding the hungry. I gained a new appreciation their work because it is aimed a vast populations to improve the fundamentals of life. Fortunately, the Indian government has identified core food staples like rice and wheat as crops that protect access to food for all. The ideas of developing crops outside of widespread commercialism will continue to be necessary, particularly given the limitations on certain technologies like genetic engineered seeds.

Understanding the local food trade was eye opening as well at the vegetable market in Hyderabad where wholesales sell good to locals who peddle the food down city streets to their 10 million residents. The people, produce and those making a Rubee along the way highlights the importance of trade and this developing economy where as much as 70% of food is sold in this unorganized way. A local farmer and consultant Ashok Jalagam toured us to the main market as well as his organic mango farm. Ashok suffered significant drought last year because unauthorized residential and commercial development are drilling wells and using the water, that and a theme park was randomly built and dropped the natural water table; a sign of corruption.


With food itself, I can honestly say I ate as the locals do, or at least I tried. Not being one to have an adventurous pallet, I’ve enjoyed the food, short of the minor case of a gastro bug. By local, it consisted of curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner! But remember, eat you’re your right hand, clean with your left, if you know what I mean. Fortunately, our ‘Team India’ has faired very well and we are enjoying the gracious hospitality.


Singapore; Gateway to Asia #NuffieldAg #IndiaGFP

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.


  


 

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