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Farmcity Learning Farms

A grassroots-based, steward-owned, and youth led farm at the heart of every community.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Farmcity Centre For Agriculture Research and Entrepreneurship (CARE)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Farmcity Trust

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.farmcity.co

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Bois Rouge, Pamplemousses

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Mauritius

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The island of Mauritius, covering a total area of approximately 2040 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Mauritius

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I'm married to a Mauritian, and I have an extended family of in-laws who have so graciously adopted me. But that's not all. In 2016, we decided to move here after we witnessed first hand how unfair the local food system is. Safe, nutritious and healthy fresh produce was expensive and out of reach to the average Mauritian, especially in times of heavy rain, which happens very often in Tropical Mauritius. Our research to find out why opened our eyes to the bigger problem of a flawed food system. It became a problem we could not ignore, so we decided to leave our lives as we knew it in San Francisco, scrap all our plans to settle down in Singapore (where I am from), and decided to start an organic farm in Mauritius so we could do something about it. It has been 3 challenging years trying to lay the right foundations in an extremely tough business environment, but we are determined to build a scalable model for equitable food system, and we really wouldn't have it any other way. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Mauritius is a tiny island on the Indian Ocean, so tiny you could complete a round trip around the whole island in less than a day. It is a melting pot of people, religion and cultures. It is perfectly normal to eat a French Brioche for breakfast, an Indian Farata (type of flatbread) for lunch, Chinese Riz Frite (fried rice) accompanied with a Creole Rougaille Poisson Sale (salted fish stew) for dinner. While French is the dominant language of the media and business, and the use of English is increasing as more expats settle here, the true language of the people is Mauritian Creole. Although French-based,Creole is a dynamic mix of different ethnic languages including Hindi and even Chinese. A foreigner speaking proper Mauritian Creole is guaranteed to elicit a smile from even the sternest of faces!

Compared to other countries in the Sub-Saharan region, Mauritius is considered a safe, politically stable and business-friendly nation. However, under this facade of ‘paradise’, the country is struggling. Income and earning disparity is widening, with most of the country's wealth concentrated in the hands of a few families. Mauritius is also a net importer of goods, including food. Food prices in the market fluctuate dramatically, making it even more challenging for households on a budget to meet their basic needs. A typical meal consists of generous portions of white basmati rice, accompanied by a comparably small portion of meat (usually chicken), an even smaller portion of pickled vegetables, and always fizzy drinks. The diet is usually high in saturated fat and refined sugars, so it is unsurprising that the island has one of the highest rates of diet‐related diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. 

The people of Mauritius are largely friendly and happy to help, and the island is small enough so that everyone knows someone, who knows someone else. While the older generations have resigned themselves to life as they know it, "Ca C'est Maurice!", many of the younger generation are hopeful for change. They would like to maintain the cultural and religious harmony the island currently enjoys, but they hope for higher disposable incomes, affordable housing, greater support for entrepreneurship, lesser corruption, greater equality, less pollution, and more places of leisure that other big cities enjoy. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

2040

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

1265000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Like many other places, smallholder farmers dominate the production landscape, yet they bear the most risks and are often the least compensated. Added to that is the burden of a value chain monopolized by a handful of large family businesses at all levels including logistics, distribution and retail. They have vested interest to maintain conventional cultivation methods that keep producers reliant on them for agrochemicals, seeds and other farming inputs. FMCGs, especially processed and imported food, is also favored as they yield better profit margins. The business environment is such that large corporations, lobbyists and, political ‘friends’ are the true gatekeepers, and they determine who gets access to everything including policy makers, buyers, and capital. This creates a difficult environment for independent businesses to operate in. Consequently, many farmers are retiring without any succession plans, others have sold their land to real estate developers or abandoned their land altogether. The sector is also devoid of Youth, with the next generation preferring a good office job and a stable salary over the unpredictability of farming. Despite an increasing number of organic farmers (mostly ‘new’ farmers who are making the switch to farming from other career paths), the lack of support and isolating business environment results in an attrition rate higher than the number of farmers entering.
Consumers are unfairly penalized as they are left with a lack of food choices. They market caters to what vegetables have the longest shelf life rather than consumer preferences, meat is expensive, except for chicken since factory farms are abundant. They also have no control over the fluctuating prices of food, so it is common to have to choose between imported food of better quality but much more  expensive, or cheaper locally produced food of questionable quality (e.g fresh vegetables with high pesticide residues). In 2017, an average household spent 25% of their budget on ’Food and non-alcoholic beverages’, 11% on ’Transport’, 11% on ‘Utilities’, 5% on education and 4% on health.
These challenges will be exacerbated in the future, resulting in an overall distrust of the system. The lack of farmers severely limits the capacity for locally produced food, and unfair ‘gatekeeping’ business practices limits the entry of innovative solutions that can augment local production in a sustainable way. The increased reliance on agrochemicals to boost yields from land that is already decimated from decades of misuse may also result in local produce that is poor in quality, low in nutritional value and poisonous to health. The environment will suffer from an ecosystem collapse, which reinforces the vicious cycle of needing even more agrochemicals. After decades of ‘gatekeeping’ by political friends and lobbyists that stifles innovation and meritocracy, both the economy and education system will also collapse. There’ll also be negative ramifications on people's health, with increased instances of diseases that the healthcare system will not be able to manage.The rich-poor divide will widen beyond return, bringing along other societal challenges.




Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Farmcity offers a food system that is grassroots-based, steward-owned, and youth-led.  At the heart of every community will be a Farmcity Learning Farm (FLF), structured such that it is owned by every member of the community, and whose mission is to operate in such a way as to bring about maximum societal value for society. It cannot be bought or sold, any profits generated is reinvested and thus protected from extractive capital. 

A form of 'national service' will be implemented such that every young person will have to spend 2 years serving the community. They could do so in various capacities including farming, nursing, and geriatric care. This enables them to understand the needs of the community, and builds a stronger sense of ownership and belonging to their community.

The FLF will oversee all matters relating to the affairs of the community, including public service, banking and certainly food production. This will be done through various committees, all of which will be headed by a Youth who has completed national service. Rather than canvassing for votes, the youth leaders will be voted on by members of the community, based on the Youth's level of involvement with their community. The FLF will be a centre for learning. Organic farmers will find support on the learning farm itself, through apprenticeships and affordable land. After-school programs will complement the academic curriculum in schools with holistic knowledge about ecology, food and welfare. Programs for junior youths and above (aged 11+) will have a special focus on entrepreneurship through the lens of agriculture. They will identify challenges within the existing food system, and develop working prototypes to solve them. This will encourage more innovative solutions that is relevant to real needs and uses existing and finite resources in a sustainable way. Rather than a one-size fits all, top-down approach, the FLF will encourage the implementation of ideas that are truly for the community, by the community.

The FLF operates at the grassroots level, and rather than geographical boundaries, the community is determined and organized by the people themselves. An FLF could operate within existing district boundaries, or by community defined areas. This would also mean that FLFs operate in parallel to the existing food system. As more and more FLFs spring up all over the country, we expect that the many grassroots changes that are positively benefitting the community would eventually result in national adoption or recognition of FLF as a legitimate way forward. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

There will be a paradigm shift towards communities exercising personal agency and living the old adage of "being the change they want to see". The Youth will drive and lead change, leveraging their innate capacities and strong sense of justice to manage public service. Using skillsets cultivated through service to the community and Farmcity's agripreneurship programs, they will also go on to create the jobs required in the future economy. Rather than remain beholden to an unfair food system, consumers would benefit from (hyper)local access to fresh, affordable and healthy food. Producers and other actors in the food value chain will receive the support, training, and assistance they would need. Mutual support and responsibly-shared community resources will be the order of the day, with sufficient safety nets for the most vulnerable. People are healthier and more productive at work and in schools, there is a stronger sense of community, so everyone grows and progresses together. No one is left behind. As the economy rewards regenerative business ethics, innovation and meritocracy, selfish and extractive behavior would be regulated through social norms.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

My vision for 2050 is a grassroots-based, steward-owned, and youth led food system. The different districts in Mauritius will become 'agri-hoods', with a Farmcity Learning Farm (FLF) at the heart of it. Farmcity Learning Farms will oversee public service and administration of the agri-hood, led by youths via different committees, and advised by a board that is represented by different stakeholders in the food system. 

Revenue is generated based on 3 main streams:

1. Graduated income tax - based on an individual's prosperity and profitability

2. At least 30% of all revenue generated from land use, and especially from companies engaged in extractive or pollutive land use such as mining, palm oil, livestock farming, and conventional farming,

3. Sale of produce from the farm 

A storehouse will be created with a third of the harvest reserved for free distribution to the most needy in the community, as well as storage of basic grains for emergency use. A seed bank will also be created to preserve crop diversity, protect from adverse climate change, and provide seed material for research and learning with other Places. 

Environment: FLFs adopt organic methodologies that builds good soil, enhances biodiversity and uses no chemical inputs. Foodscaping - the use of edible fruit trees and shrubs that also can supplement food supply - will be used in the landscaping of public access areas such as walkways, parks and community centers. A closed loop waste management system will also be implemented such that any waste generated is either composted or otherwise upcycled into value added products. The waste-to-value-added-product value chain presents potential business opportunities that the youth can take advantage of. Eating local and in season will also decrease overall carbon footprint. 

Diets: Hyperlocal production of food will enable increased access to fresh, nutrient dense food. The move away from monoculture will entail greater variety in the types of food available to the community. Having a learning farm at the heart of the community also builds a renewed connection to and appreciation of food, with members having a deeper understanding about nutrition.People will also learn how to cook with local and seasonal food. This means they are more likely to reach for fresh over processed food and eat in the right portions. Eating better would lead to individuals becoming more productive members of society. 

Economics: With the community as stewards of Farmcity, and all profits reinvested back, extractive, selfish or unethical practices for personal gain will be naturally eliminated. A fair wage policy will be instituted, where the highest paid staff earns no more than 5 times that of the lowest paid staff. This will narrow the income disparity, and its success will hopefully inspire other businesses to follow suit. Further, having an adequate safety net ensures no one is left behind, so everyone benefits from the success of Farmcity.  Moving decision making power to the community (and away from  lobbyists and ‘political friends’) would also remove unfair barriers to entry, thus encouraging fair competition, meritocracy and innovation. There will be new enterprises created, hence more jobs and greater disposable income among the people. Since the country is now creating more, it is likely that the trade deficit would decrease as exports (of new ideas and products) increases. Once enough healthy and affordable alternatives are available, a 'fast food’ tax will also be imposed on fast food and processed food, with income generated used to fund social safety net programs. 

Culture: Youth will be the key drivers in the food system, building up key skills through national service before going on to lead the various committees overseeing public service, education programs and administration of the FLF. Central to youth national service is FLF’s agripreneurship program, where the youths themselves identify challenges within the local food system and devise solutions that could potentially solve them. Through the program, they develop working prototypes to be tested on the market. Given the elevated perception of farming in 2050, there will also be more female participation within the sector, as producers and entrepreneurs, and consequently, greater financial independence enjoyed by women. Food culture is such that eating local and seasonal food is a given, so hotels and restaurants would turn to traditional recipes as a way to differentiate themselves. This would influence the types of crops selected for production, with the return of ‘ancient grains and seeds’ such as Violette, Moringa, and Salsify for example. Fast food will take a backseat as they will become more expensive than local fare. 

Technology: In 2050, technology will be used to facilitate, rather than replace, Nature. There will be extremely efficient photovoltaic panels that will provide most of the energy needs for the community. Irrigation will also be automated as far as possible, using a combination of harvested rain water, filtered grey water and aquaponics. The drainage system will also be designed in a manner that filters and then directs rainwater into giant underground storage tanks for future use. IoT devices including sensors will be used to collect data on soil temperature, yield, pest and disease pressure, consumer demand, post harvest shelf life. These data will be used to inform and improve cultivation methods and distribution efficiency. The TropicBird Greenhouse will be used for sheltered cultivation of the most vulnerable crops. As a greenhouse specifically designed for the Tropics, it allows heat to ventilate passively, and is build to withstand cyclonic wind gusts of up to 280 km/h. Version 2.0 of The TropicBird Greenhouse will enable its wings to descend hydraulically for easy replacement. The roof will also be made of translucent PV panels, instead of normal greenhouse film, so that it can protect the crops while generating energy at the same time. Blockchain technology will be used to increase transparency in the system, further discouraging any unethical business practices. 

Policy: In 2050, the criteria to run for public office must be updated such that only candidates with a minimum of 2 consecutive years of voluntary service in the community are eligible. Further, no canvassing or campaigning for votes will be allowed. This means that the community votes based on who is most actively serving in the community. All youths must also serve 2 years of national service with a focus on Agripreneurship. As part of national service, youths will service the community in various capacities including farming, nurshing, cleaning and geriatric care. They will also develop entrepreneurial skillsets that will identify challenges within the local food system, develop a solution and a working prototype to test the solution on the market. Incentives and subsidies will be provided to encourage organic farming, with the level of incentives given based on the number hours of voluntary community service the individual has performed. Subsidies will no longer be provided to non-organic cultivation practices. Stiff laws will be in place to regulate food safety, including a ban on all forms of toxic pesticides and herbicides, and severe penalties for those who flout them. A ‘fast food’ tax will be in implemented, only after there is sufficient healthy and affordable alternatives available, for fast food and processed food. Further, there will be no ‘bio’ and ‘organic’ labelling on fresh produce and meat. Instead, non-organically cultivated fresh produce and meat will be required to declare what chemicals, hormones or additives were used and have it reflected on the food label. In 2050, it is expected that government champions social businesses in the food space and enacts more start-up friendly policies. Innovative ideas steeped in collaborative efforts should not be hindered by cumbersome licensing and/or capital requirements. A taskforce represented by different stakeholders in the food system must also review the food system annually, identifying pain points and success stories, and using this to inform and shape the food system for the better. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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