Regenerating the ancient mayan food network: a community based landscape for coexistence and evolution of diverse food systems
Recognized tradeoffs between our diversified food systems will lead a transformation of the geomety and rules of engagement of its agents
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Transformación, Arte y Educación AC
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.
We are submitting this initiative as a single organization, however, our work in the Yucatán Peninsula convenes and seeks to cooperate with multiple stakeholders. Over 20 years we have successfully built strong and trustful relationships with local mayan leaders, tourism industry agents, government agencies, and national and international organizations invested in education, culture and nature conservation such as INFONAVIT, SEP, INAH and UNESCO. Going forward with this vision, we would seek to activate the potential of this high level trust relationships across sectors to refine and evolve our current vision.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Ciudad de México
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Northern area of the Yucatan Peninsula.
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I performed my undergraduate studies in food engineering and made traditional diary and meat products for a living.
In the early 90s I did academic and field studies of medicinal plant management and traditional ecological knowledge in the northwestern area of the Yucatan Peninsula, area that was selected because of its deep roots in traditional ecological knowledge; and because it had both a rich diversity of ecosystems and a high meteorological vulnerability, in the sense of the frequency of droughts, flooding, hurricanes, and forest fires. A fundamental idea of the study I performed there was that, due to the high ecosystem diversity and patchiness of the territory, the individual peasants of the area were in fact ecosystem managers that were handling simultaneously various food systems within different ecosystems in distinct successional periods.
I stayed in the Yucatan Peninsula for sixteen years. During this time I lived in several communities and worked with people dedicated to multiple fishing, forestry, agricultural, animal husbandry and hunting activities, all the while focusing my attention on how the environment and climate’s regular patterns and variability were understood and valued depending on the nature and scope of different food systems and the level of technology mediating the relationship with nature.
Direct experience of food system regeneration after several hurricanes, droughts, and forest fires at a local level made it possible for me to envision how both enhancing and regenerating the potential of the diversity of food systems is currently understood in Mayan language, and how it might have been learned and applied to large spatial scales by people organized as a community network during a long time in the remote past.
The time spent in the Peninsula enabled me to learn the Mayan language and participate as a mediator between different local agents and government agencies, businesses, non-governmental bodies and academic institutions.
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.
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to an extraordinarily biodiverse tropical forest, the “Mayan Jungle”. It contains one of the largest jaguar populations of the world, as well as other mammals, reptiles and over 400 species of birds. The climate of the Peninsula is mostly hot and sub-humid, as well as lesser arid and semi-arid regions. This is a key factor for its diversity and abundance. The Mayan culture has left indelible marks of grandeur via its monumental architecture and artistic expressions. Another strong cultural influence is that of the Spaniards who arrived a few centuries ago. During the colonization and evangelization process, churches and monasteries were built and remained as part of the syncretic landscape of the Peninsula. Today churches, monasteries, Mayan households, and pre-Hispanic monuments all contribute to weave this rich and intricate cultural fabric. Although “Mayan” and “Spaniard” are the words commonly used to designate the the most recognized cultural influences of the Peninsula, its social configuration is way more complicated. Since ancient times, the Yucatán Peninsula has been destination of several migration waves. The Itza, the Tutulxiu, the Cocomes, are the names of some of the people who early in history arrived and populated the Peninsula. There has also been other overseas migration such as the Lebanese; and more recent migration coming from within the country, such as the affluence of people from the state of Veracruz after the oil industry contaminated their rivers and lagoons connected to the Mexican Gulf. Also in recent decades, we could mention the migrations of people coming from the capital, Mexico City, after a tremendous earthquake that left grave infrastructural and psychological damage; and the migrations coming from the country’s northern region, as a consequence of the violent conditions there that have kept on increasing. All these people have brought with them their cultural baggage, adding to the existing configuration new food recipes, fishing techniques, traditions, and more. People in Yucatan have such a close relationship with food, that even in very ancient cosmic narratives, it is an important marker of the passing of time. In some myths, major events are paired up and narrated alongside changes in diet: “a hurricane came… and so they ate…”. The current inhabitants of Yucatan are generally regarded as light hearted, easygoing and kind. If one approaches the social constitution of the Peninsula on the surface, this is very much true. Unfortunately, many social issues lie beneath Yucatan’s people’s affectionate exterior. True, they have one of the lowest national homicide indexes; but they also have some of the highest regarding domestic violence, alcoholism, suicide and diet-related chronic degenerative diseases. These are some of the consequences of a cordially dealt with but deep political, religious, ethnic and economic division.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Current food systems in the area are highly diverse, spatially dispersed, ecologically interrelated and already manifesting negative trade-offs resulting in economic, dietary, cultural and political issues. In each of the themes related to the food systems (ecology, economy, culture, diet, politics and technology), fragmentation, diversification and polarization is underway. Therefore, a general challenge in which we may englobe each of the concrete challenges our food system faces, is finding a way in which fragmented, diverse and polarized agents might communicate and cooperate.
The first –and we believe the greater– challenge is the existing acute diversification of food systems and food meaning. Although there is an ample consciousness of the need to change the relationship with the natural environment, the reasons for it are diverse. Some may see the need for changes to happen in a food system as a business opportunity; others may perceive an ethical issue; others, a health emergency. Each stakeholder has their own image of what is happening and what has to be done in order to address their particular challenges as a system, which does not correlate to the image other stakeholders possess although the observed phenomena might be the same. Language is broken and breaking, and given that our fate is common and communication to direct it necessary, this must be attended.
Even if we surpass the challenge of uniting all of these agents around the same idea –that is, managing a forest to enhance its biodiversity productivity– the reasons to do it, the value of it and the language to express it will still be a barrier between them. Therefore, communication and cooperation has to be thoroughly and carefully organized. Fortunately, there is a silver lining within this fragmentation: awareness of the need to protect water, soil and biodiversity is already a common ground.
The second challenge is that prejudice surrounding the tropical forests overpowers knowledge. The prevailing image of the forest –also commonly known as the jungle– and its people, which has been shaped by ignorance, myth, and romantic and horror storytelling, hinders one of a rational community relationship of care. In other words, the idea we propose of cultivating tropical forest biodiversity as a food system faces ideological resistance and even denial as a possibility. For our vision to be realized, the forest’s dynamics, productivity and potential change due to management must be turned into common culture.
The third challenge has to do with the correlation of our images of the past and the future. Right now, our image of the past of the Yucatan Peninsula resembles a medieval setting. We picture a world of gods, kings, priests, wars, and a culture who suffers its fate as passive victim of its circumstances, although there is ample evidence of its agency in their astronomical, hydraulic, genetic, medical and other developments. It is a challenge to change our story of the past from that of a noncooperative nucleus fighting with each other, to that of a community built network of communication and cooperation that operated to take care of the place and its beings.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
To address the acute diversification of food systems and food meaning, it is necessary to find a way in which all stakeholders can communicate for the sake of cooperation. To achieve this, we shall develop a vision for the diverse stakeholders in and by which contradictions might be addressed, the benefits of cooperation enhanced and a land-use geometrical landscape and development plan in which each stakeholder can coexist is recognized. This will be done via the creation of a symbolic code to register meteorological and biodiversity events and relate its referents in four major semantic categories: net primary production, food production, market value and ecosystem services.
To address the matter of prejudice surrounding the tropical forest, there are two things to be done: narratives based on actual knowledge and real-time data acquisition register of water, soil and biodiversity of the ecosystem must be generated, and the knowledge of the forest’s dynamics, productivity and potential change due to management must be turned into common culture. Fortunately, the technology necessary for these registers is already available and becoming cheaper every day.
This knowledge and its correlation with recent discoveries and solid evidence of the extent of ancient settlement patterns, population density, hydraulic infrastructure, climatic variability, edible biodiversity, tropical forest management and traditional ecological knowledge will be enough to change the current narratives of the past towards an image of a network of diversified food systems managed collectively and oriented towards resilience in a variable and vulnerable environment. At the same time, with this notion of the past in mind, it will be easier to reinstall this system in the present and future.
All this can be included within one process which addresses all challenges: the generation of common experience. Even if within each food system and food system language (1) the image of the past (3), and the value/feasibility of the notion of cultivating biodiversity (2), are addressed; it is the experience of actually doing it what embodies the will towards action. The real work relies in doing it together, irrespective of the food system or food system meaning each one has. To address this, a diverse array of practical, hands-on experience will be available so it can be accessible whether you are a tourist with just a couple of hours available, a traveler, a meditating being, a worker, a student, an investigator, an artist, a chef, a gardner, a healer, etc.
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.
Given the diversity of food systems and meanings, the nodes and paths of the network will have also multiple meanings. They will manifest as
Places to learn and to teach
Food production systems
Carbon sequestration sinks
Stopovers and nesting places for migratory species
Places to work and earn a living
Networks where ancient Mayan knowledge and wisdom are restored
Sacred places for the continuity of traditions
In essence, a place/network in which a different relationship with nature takes place.
We will address our particular necessities together, either of health, occupation or joy.
Information in different frameworks (net primary productivity, water and soil quality, food products, market values) will be available and thoroughly analyzed in itself and in their correlations. New and precise knowledge, which is currently obscured, will derive from the interactions between biodiversity and meteorological patterns. People will have access to real-time data about the evolution of the food system, which will enable each stakeholder to take informed and cooperative decisions, as opposed to the current disseminated and unarticulated actions. Children will learn it early on, and so knowledge of the forest’s dynamics productivity and potential change due to management will become common knowledge.
Instead of a sick population with diet-related issues there will be easy access to healthy food. Besides, a whole new set of high-quality, natural food products for consumption will enter the market, with a high potential to regenerate local economies.
Coordination and cooperation in a continuous task (even if the reasons to do it differ) will be of inconmensurable value and significance in addressing historical and systemic violences. By way of attending the environment, we shall also attend the relationship with one another as a society, because we will have to do it together.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Instead of viewing the Yucatan peninsula in terms of political divisions and through general categories of land-use, imagine the present land in 2020 as an archipelago of tropical forest islands in a matrix of deforested paths associated to roads (see attached image). You will find in this image over 200 islands of various sizes and different histories and levels of deforestation.
By 2050 regenerating biodiversity and connecting the 200+ islands, with all the challenges addressed, will result will in a 10 000 km² network that produces an average 2000 kg of food/ha.yr of about 400 different species.
Our full vision pictures the rhythms of food production associated to the regeneration of biodiversity aligning conscious decisions of diverse food consumers with the natural rhythms of the forest within the market. This will happen as an outcome of the network of information, knowledge and experiences that will be created through addressing current challenges. What this means is that, rather than a market offering whatever is demanded, whenever it is demanded –which can only be done via the exploitation of ecosystems such as the tropical forest–, conscious consumers and producers will compel the market to align to the natural periods of the ecosystem’s production. This does not mean in any way that there will be scarcity of any type of food, but rather, that all types of it shall be produced and consumed in a more healthy way for the environment, respecting its dynamics, which translates into a healthier life for the participants of the food system. Not only will there be high-quality food products. Given that the food system involves taking care of the tropical forest and nurturing it, this will also result in cleaner water, air and soil. Conscious and cooperative decisions will transform themselves into food traditions and the living force of a regenerative system.
We can not minimize the importance of partnership with animals. It is fundamental to care of them because we are better off working together with them in the regeneration process. There will be a transition from killing everything that moves, exploiting species and letting just some of them live because they are of service, to a reciprocal relationship of respect, partnership and even love.
In our vision, the potential of sharing a learning path from chaos to regeneration is not confined to the Yucatan Peninsula. As the network is solidified and expanded through time, it might become strong enough to cross any border. This is because of the particular nucleus of the system, which has to do with a type of communication that connects us beyond our cultural, economic, and political particularities: any human being can learn it as long as the have the disposition to rethink and reconnect their relationship with what surrounds them in the search of a better, healthier living, and a kinder approach to the ecosystems that enable it.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.
We experienced a fundamental shift from inviting stakeholders to address the value of an idea in terms of undesirable future outcomes of unsustainable trends; to an invitation to co-create prototypes of an alternative to address the current systemic breakdown.
At the beginning of our convenings, the main challenges were resistance to change.
Now, sensitized by COVID-19 disturbances to food supply chains, there is no much need to argue about the vulnerabilities and trade-offs of our current system.
Our vision developed over the course of the refinement phase in prototypes and implementation strategies co-design loops. We did this with our past and newly contacted stakeholders.
Engaging new stakeholders in co-creative dialogues expanded our original insights and revealed new layers, relationships, and potentials that are required to integrate for the implementation of our regenerative system vision.
In a sense, “how will we do this?” became more important than “why should we do this?”
Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).
Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán.
Fundación Claudia y Roberto Hernández
La Vaca Independiente
Universidad del Medio Ambiente.
Instituto Yucateco de Emprendedores.
Fundación Haciendas del Mundo Maya.
Nacional Monte de Piedad.
Centro de Investigación en Matemáticas.
Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.
New stakeholders came from individuals and collectives (mexican and international) currently working in the intersection of Economic Development and Cultural and Natural Capital Regeneration.
Our stakeholders are 17- 75 years old from diverse disciplines: mayan forest farmers, mayan students, local yucatecan producers, artists, engineers, designers, researchers, anthropologists, supply chain experts, retailers, chefs, NGO managers, local and federal government officials.
We engaged a total of 65 individuals in the refinement phase.
After contact, we shared with each stakeholder our past submission and asked them if they were interested and willing to participate in co-designing a prototype in the refinement phase, virtually, due to the circumstances.
Our virtual co-creative meetings were anchored and designed around the exploration of 3 key topics:
First, our evolving vision. We asked about the main transformations that were unfolding in their particular theme of expertise and how they perceived them; either as continuity, increase, or reversal of previous trends or as signals of emerging patterns.
Then, given that the main objective of our food system is to strengthen its resilience in front of environmental, economic, diet, technological, political and cultural drivers, pressures or catastrophic events; we raised the question that if they had the opportunity to decide where to start the first 20 prototypes; where will they start and why?
Finally, we invited our stakeholders to envision a 2050 future where every single variable about the food system could be measured, analyzed, and displayed (a context of panoptical availability of data in real-time). If that was the case, but they had to start with can be measured today with current capabilities, what variables would each measure, and in which order to have an increased insight of the evolution and resilience of the food system?
What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.
The following trends and signals informed our vision of a feasible future in which logistics and distribution evolve as a process of coalition between the agents across multiple layers of the food system.
1. At the present moment, we are observing emerging signals in the context of COVID-19 pandemic where producers are self-organizing to reach consumers directly, and vice versa.
2. Taking a larger perspective and longer term trends, value-chain integration with local communities in the high-end designer cuisine industry, tourism services and interrelation with farmers and producers markets are regenerative trends that informed our vision. The development of mobile applications within these trends, such as Rutopia (relatively recent for inland Mayan communities), is opening a wide array of opportunities to strengthen this evolving relationship.
3. We also draw insight into the politics and research institutions about trends in the legal framework and environmental protection capabilities. Operational capabilities of several research projects of environmental monitoring and assessment have stopped or diminished due to budgetary restrictions while several laws are being passed to change the federal legal framework (Ley General de Aguas) which explicitly contemplates the protection of the karstic Yucatan peninsula aquifer.
4. A signal we also assessed was the indignation expressed in social networks from the killing of a jaguar, an eagle, an owl, and a toucan as a sign of social awareness of the value of biodiversity and the deep love for animals in segments of the Yucatan peninsula society.
5. We perceive as a signal the merge of Sieve Analytics (ARBIMON) with the NGO Rainforest Connection (RFCx) of an emerging coalition pattern between technology and biodiversity assessment.
6. A trend in scientific recognition of ancient Mayan hydraulic infrastructure and its relation with climate change, drought, and resilience of socio-ecological systems as it couples with to date communities having as their last source of water ancient Mayan rainwater reservoirs in the present drought in the Calakmul region.
7. From the first submission to the present we have experienced a reversal in the major trends associated with the trajectory of economic development in the Yucatan Peninsula.
We are observing the impact of COVID-19 pandemic disruption to tourism and construction services in the region (which account for the majority of formal jobs in the Yucatan Peninsula), resulting in increasing domestic violence, illegal hunting, deaths by adulterated alcohol, political confrontation, and many others. These signals inform our understanding of the depth of social fragmentation within local communities.
Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).
A day in the life of a Mayan forest network path farmer:
“Before dawn, I take the fruits and seeds I gathered yesterday for the animals, and some suhuy-ha (pure water). With me, I have the device we use to record the sounds and images at the field.
I walk the path that leads to the field. I walk slowly but steadily, making the least possible noise. As I hear the birds sing, I sing back imitating their sound, that is the way we announce our presence.
I offer the water, the fruits and the seeds in the place we have made for this purpose.
I pause and observe the land, and take notice of what has been happening in the field.
When the sun rises, I separate, classify, and move organic matter, soil, and stones in the way we know they are to be used to expand our rainwater management infrastructure. We do this to have shaded and unshaded areas, areas with and without irrigation, and with more or less soil. I take pictures and measurements at designated spots.
When the heat starts to rise, I rest. There is a place where we record what happens every day. I draw symbols to represent today’s events in the field. I eat and rest.
After the heat peak, I take care of the ponds. As we always do. I take pictures and measurements at designated spots.
On my way from the field, I harvest what nature is offering today to prepare our food.
After working in the field, we gather and eat together at a special place we build for us. We cook and share our food. We talk about changes in the weather, the winds, the rain, the moon, and the stars.
We agree on what has been changing and we make a symbol of it and record it on a board. This is something our grandfathers used to do, and I am proud we are doing it again with younger generations.
We prepare our offerings for the following day. Then we go to sleep, knowing that tomorrow will be the same, but different.
It’s a good job, we’re always walking, noticing, following our rules, taking care of the animals.”
Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?
We consider adaptive regeneration as the core principle of system resilience in far from equilibrium dynamics.
Our 2050 food system has 4 components; 1) biodiversity-based production infrastructure, 2) social networks development strategy, 3) data gathering and analytics platform, and 4) a business-oriented financial plan.
Our biodiversity-based production infrastructure is explicitly designed to address climate change resilience at a wide-scale following three principles: connectivity, care and genetic diversification.
Connectivity is addressed by cultivating paths instead of plots, instead of a 100x100 meter hectare our cultivation strategy is a 10x1000 plot with the aim to develop a territorial network so biological species have the opportunity to move.
Care is addressed by 20% of the area dedicated to rainwater capture, management, and distribution. Coupled with diversification of microclimatic conditions at regular intervals within the network.
Adaptive genetic-based phenotypic plasticity traits are enhanced by rule-based sowing, selecting, and movement of seed both, towards the conditions in which their capacity to bear seed is compromised and towards the areas where their productive potential is maximized.
Briefly stated, the aim of our food system and its decision-making protocols is the resilience of the biodiversity network in a climate change context, and as a consequence of this, we have a food production output.
At the local level of each nucleus and path, microclimate diversification is the objective of the infrastructure. More water-less water, more-less soil, more-less irradiation. Since every food-bearing species is to be cultivated in each setting, climate variability will be enhanced for some and damped for the others augmenting the survival possibilities of each species and the diversification process. Continuous evaluation and directionality of exchange patterns of seeds will be the (knowledge-based, human-powered, directional-sharing) mechanism in place for the resilience of the food system.
Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?
Considering health relies on the availability of nutritious food, knowledge of nutritional needs, and will to make coherent choices, our food system of 2050 will address them as follow:
As we described in “a day in the life”, those who work in the network of our food system are on a daily basis paying attention to what is the sequence of food of many animals, how they are connected, what changes are in place due to their actions in the landscape, and what could we prepare for us with what is today available. So they are learning about food systems.(Knowledge)
Since the local shortage of food for a species will be acknowledged by the species behavior, knowledge of alternatives will be recognized through communication with others in the network, and actions to alleviate the shortage will be addressed by temporal offerings and seed sharing to have what is needed, what our food system is cultivating is food cycles for biological webs. (Availability)
Periodically, visitors will come precisely to have the experience they are having every day: a silent beginning, deep attention, offering, caring, stone and earthwork, a harvest of today’s gifts, deciding and cooking together a nutritious meal, preparing the food offerings for next day, sharing our experiences and using symbols to keep the memory of the Place. With these actions, we address the feasibility and value of changing our current food habits as a learning process. (Will)
By 2050, this learning process and reassessment of values along the food chain in terms of health and resilience of biological and social networks will evolve to be coupled with state-of-the-art biosensing and AI-based big data analysis of the relationship between diet and metabolism at the individual level. Since nutrients profiles will be assessed for each food item variety, growth conditions, maturity state, harvest, postharvest, and cooking practices and we expect nutrition-based demand to align to food properties derived from specific chemical composition and nutrient profiles.
Since demand and regenerative activities in the biodiversity food network will be coupled, by 2050 what we would have is a year-round, biodiversity-based, nutrient-oriented food system.
We acknowledge however that alcoholism, obesity, heart conditions, and diabetes are widespread in the Place and are not isolated problems but symptoms of a higher-order system in which food is a subsystem. By 2050, about a third of the population will have health problems around these factors and we might envision subsystems within our food system oriented to specific metabolic conditions. (i.e the biodiversity-based diabetes control diet). It is a very serious and complex issue, we expect our food system to make alternatives feasible for everyone who wants to change.
Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?
For several decades external initiatives that might represent job opportunities have generated inequalities by ethnic, gender, religious, political, age, and other criteria. In general, aid and projects are focused on specific groups within the communities.
As a team, we clearly understand the consequences this process has had in social fragmentation and conflict within the communities and how this affects the viability of our project, particularly as it relates to long-term and wide land-use changes in the territory.
From a strategic point of view, jobs in the community will be offered by a company that is developing a biodiversity and climate change analysis digital platform.
The infrastructure needed to develop this platform is a network of rainwater harvesting nodes and roads where cultural practices to regenerate the biodiversity in the network are implemented and daily registers of weather, plant, and animal behavior are recorded.
Since, as a company, we highly value Mayan knowledge and understand the relationship between language and knowledge, part of the job is to develop a graphical code of the elements (time, space, water, soil and stone classification, plant developmental stages, animal behavior, and weather patterns) to have a graphical description of events observed at each place.
So as a company we are buying data (the sound records of the birds and other animals, the images of the rainwater management road construction, the images of the food cultivation for the animals, the graphical representation of what happened and the pictures of the food available in each place).
That’s what we buy since those are the things we use to make our platform, that’s our business. A device is given to each person interested to capture this, sounds, and images in a defined and clear time and space pattern.
Who can do it? anyone that wants to. The value of the daily records grows with the individual temporal continuity and with the collective spatial dimension. Everyone is welcomed.
We know those who take the job will be in silence paying full attention to what happens around them, taking care of other forms of life, coding pattern correlations of climate/biodiversity in celestial bodies rhythms. Doing physical activities, harvesting the biodiversity-based food derived from their activities, learning traditional cooking techniques and practices. But, as a first step, to get this project on track in the current circumstances, those outcomes are positive externalities, we are not solving problems, we are making a movie based on rules, keeping our word and paying accordingly.
A very different idea comes in when we try to envision the economics of food and biodiversity value chains in a 2050 future.
Simplifying to have a dimension of our vision, considering that about 20000 people in the rural communities in the Yucatan Peninsula are entering the workforce each year, if a third of them were interested in our Vision, this will mean 200,000 jobs in the network by 2050 in an area of 10,000 km2. This means that each of them will have to take care of 5 hectares with a 2000kg/year of continuous food output, harvesting 27kg/day of food. At 1usd/kg, it’s four times of today’s mean salary in the area.
However, we expect many transformational changes from now to 2050 and believe that the biodiversity food network can be considered and valued as essential infrastructure for the health/continuity of our community/species by a wider amount of people with many frameworks of understanding and valuing our relationship with nature, with ourselves and between each other.
Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?
In essence, what our 2050 food system is proposing is the regeneration of the connectivity of an agroecological landscape where a wide set of cultural, spiritual and community traditions and practices were once held and were reduced, ritualized or kept as a memory because they were not feasible for a variety of historical reasons and processes.
The rules by which the system is designed to grow are fairly simple and without any cultural discrimination biases.
We believe that developing and maintaining the biodiversity-based food network, with their current, past, and generated knowledge, with total feasibility and desirability of being described and managed in the names and conceptual categories of the Mayan language, will favor the continuity and strengthening of the cultural, spiritual, traditions and practices in the Place.
What is new in our proposal is the articulation of the consequences of this territorial regeneration process (food, information, and experiences), through technology in data gathering and analysis, consumer-oriented platforms and community integration experiences, as a culturally non-disruptive mechanism of relationship with the market.
Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?
There are two areas of technological advance our vision needs to meet our goals: biosensor and big data.
In our vision, a biodiversity network, rainwater management, human-powered, rule-based cyclical activities of ecosystem regeneration oriented to resilience are integrated with a high technology, real-time, big data acquisition, analysis and display to articulate supply chains and consumers demand of information, products, experiences and business opportunities
Coupling these two areas of technological advances will enable a highly diversified society to work together in keeping alive a biodiversity territorial network. The critical point is that the output of the biodiversity network is related to natural rhythms and variations which can be known but are beyond our control so to efficiently align the output with a highly diversified and variable consumer demand a personalized relationship has to be engaged with each consumer interest which we expect will also show high variability.
So the information is always available, all data of all that is happening in the network, aquifer evolution, soil fertility, growth patterns, food production, migration patterns, meteorological patterns, and its correlations can be searched in the system.
Expected food harvests are displayed with their specific attributes in which the consumer is interested, physical properties (shape size, color) therapeutic properties, taste attributes, ecological significance, growth conditions, etc
Natural events to engage with are also displayed, celestial-related events, meteorological events; onset, climax and end of flowering, fruiting, nesting, migration, reproduction, and other behavior of biological species.
Biodiversity food network management activities to engage with are also displayed, rainwater infrastructure construction and maintenance patterns, sowing, harvesting, and every cultural practice related to its common maintenance or critical needs due to fire, hurricane, flood, or other climate or anthropogenic related events.
Market trends of information, food items, and experience related events can be assessed, analyzed and display growth opportunities, risk assessments, and many other indices for investors
Each client decides what variables are relevant and the biosensors-big data AI system allows the efficiency in the logistics of events and distribution of goods.
In our perspective as a team of stakeholders, we generally agree that consciousness about the implications of our food choices: climate, biodiversity, peoples, places, and health, is positively related to a diversification of the meaning of food and food choices.
We agree also that if our food system sells hundreds of food items with the information of every relationship associated with their availability and this changes our customers' food choices, we are dealing with a coupled non-linear supply-demand food system that will require technological advances to run efficiently.
We believe and expect the evolution in biosensors, data gathering, transmission, analysis and display to follow the past trends of availability, performance and cost-efficiency.
Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?
Since the foundations of our future food system reside in four core principles:
1) a local experience-based learning process of the elements and dynamic patterns of the climate/biodiversity relationship,
2) the development of a “new” land-use category, the rainwater management food biodiversity producing system network,
3) the production of year-round diets of tropical forest food and,
4) the seed and cultivation practices oriented to genetic diversification in a climate change scenario; policies related to national education processes and contents, policies regarding the territorial ordering of land-use, policies regarding food safety and policies regarding biodiversity rights are to be addressed.
In doing what we envision no activity we foresee is contrary to the law, but we are clear that work has to be done to engage cooperatively with distinct education, land-use, food safety, biodiversity, and climate change policies that to date doesn’t consider what our vision is looking for within their regulatory framework.
It’s within our tasks to enable it before reactive responses might come from different agents of the current system in place.
Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.
In the co-creation of our vision with our stakeholders we recognize that correlations and trade-offs between the themes in the selected area are highly heterogeneous, site specific and variable in nature as we move our attention between people and places spatial and temporal scales.
Simplifying, at the larger scale it is a land-use conflict between a soy, sorghum, palm oil, pig and poultry industrial farming export-oriented development program, and a biodiversity based, traditional knowledge, local food system in a process of economic integration with recent environmental, cultural and health oriented food market opportunities.
However, the boundaries between these land-use patterns are not clear-cut and resemble more a fractal geometry. It is important to recognize that, even at the individual level, many members of the communities participate simultaneously in what at a conceptual level might seem incompatible perspectives.
For example, Don Juan takes care of meliponas native beehives in his garden, but he works in a farm that spray the chemicals that harm the bees, he goes in the weekends to do his traditional milpa, but his unhealthy diet had led him to diabetes; he is a member of a traditional organization that keeps alive ancient traditions and practices, and is affiliated to a political party whose intention is to “relocate” the whole community for a development megaproject; he has deep ancient knowledge of traditional agricultural practices but uses herbicides because he has no time to practice what he knows; and so on.
Viewed from another perspective, if we visualize an ideal ancient mayan food system of ecosystem management of seasonal tropical forest dynamics, what remains now are fragmented pieces of the system dispersed throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
For the smallest units, we could describe a general pattern of negative influences derived from long term wide territorial development trends around each Theme and a fairly recent local positive trends in each Theme due to the awareness and activism of diverse stakeholders in relation with ecological, economical, dietary, political, technological and cultural value of these ancient food systems.
Another general correlation that can be described is that long term territorial negative trends are more organized politically, technologically, and economically compared with local recent positive trends where cooperation between stakeholders is just an emerging pattern, comparatively.
That is why our food system has connectivity as a main principle; ecological, social, technological and market connectivity, oriented towards integration and resilience of the system
At the end, we understand that land-use patterns will be driven by our food choices and the connectivity and efficiency of local supply-demand value chains of biodiversity-based food is the key component of the future of our food system in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.
Without a doubt, at every scale, from the whole population of the Yucatan Peninsula to the people in small communities, negative and positive impacts towards our Vision will be present as external forces.
Contradictory worldviews, social relationships, and material ways of life permeate the whole system. Since they are not evenly distributed, patterns emerge when viewed at a large landscape scale, but it is not prudent to consider there are definite spatial boundaries between them at a landscape level. To picture the land-use context, it is better to imagine it as a fractal mosaic of distinct land-use patterns.
Since our vision implies regenerating the forest matrix that embeds these diverse land use plots, we will experience tradeoffs at each scale, and since our food system growth pattern is a mesh, nodes, and paths, our main trade off will be to balance the potential with the resistance as it grows.
As a core team, we are conscious that to attain our 2050 vision, we will be looking at tradeoffs on every Theme on a daily basis for several years. Every node or path we initiate is more or less relevant in terms of the value of its output data, experiences, food and money for our stakeholders and is also more or less relevant to the water, soil, biodiversity, food, social, cultural and economic systems we envision to connect.
Generally speaking, the more degraded a forest is the more relevant its regeneration is, but the more time it will take in acquiring its output potential.
The closer a node is to an area where monoculture is expanding, it is more relevant if this expansion is related to the lack of jobs in the adjacent communities but the negative effect of agrochemicals will be enhanced.
Our plan is to pay attention and measure every aspect of present tradeoffs with the aim to understand its short term and long term implications in the connectivity and resilience of our vision in order to guide its growth pattern in an economically feasible way.
3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?
Within a 3 year period we would need to manifest a living prototype of our generative system and establish enabling constraints to expand it.
1.- The systematization of methods to develop clusters of interconnected biodiversity-based production sites. For this, fail-safe learning experiments in Place should lead to identify unknowns-unknowns and overcome fundamental social-economic-cultural-political-technological-natural challenges.
2.- A collaborative network of high trust relationships between multisectoral agents in the Yucatan Peninsula. Stakeholders should be collaborating in complex multi sectoral challenges effectively connecting the extremes of our food supply system. Stakeholders should have established generative constraints to expand the stakeholder circle while maintaining coherence.
3.-A portfolio of projects with the potential to broaden the Food Supply Chain is attracting development capital funds interested in boosting the incubation and acceleration of our food system.
10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?
By 2030, we would expect to have proven success of development capital funds having invested in incubation and acceleration of emerging projects and applications derived from our initial system. Continued investment would be therefore de-risked to new development capital funds backed from success stories and a growing network of committed stakeholders interested in broadening a regenerative economy.
By 2030 we should be producing information, stories, food, and experiences to a wide spectrum of stakeholders and for a wide variety of reasons with cost-effectiveness and an attractive return rate of investment.
To be straightforward, we believe that if by 2030 those who have invested in developing prototypes of our food system vision haven’t recovered their investment, our vision will have significant difficulties to become a reality by 2050.
Conversely, if in our current situation of complex evolving worldviews, building the pieces of our vision becomes a fairly reasonable investment in the eyes of our stakeholders, we believe our vision has high probabilities to become a reality by 2050.
If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?
Consistent with our milestones in year 3, we would plant the seeds of our core system elements. We believe these 3 initial actions could lead to attracting development capital funds to broaden our Food System prototype and demonstration.
1.- We would adapt and repurpose identified and available land space in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, for implementing fail-safe learning experiments towards developing biodiversity-based production fields with local Mayan forest path farmers and local producers.
2.- Finally, we would convene a number of stakeholders and food system entrepreneurs interested in participating and co-developing our Food System Vision. We would invite them to a dialogue and action-research type of program for a co-sensing, co-learning, co-creating cycle designed to build trust and develop individual and collective capacities among stakeholders to collaborate in this complex multi-sectoral challenge.
3.- We would invest in developing a basic version of our envisioned data collection and information system so that the initial data of our basic Food System can be interconnected in a business-oriented platform allowing the emergence of parallel projects and data-based applications.
Most importantly, we would do it. It’s enough to start. All the pieces are already in the Place and now all the pieces are looking for alternatives. We just have to knit them together.
If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?
I would like to share with a global audience the value and feasibility of doing again what our ancestors did thousands of years ago to develop the food we still eat today.
I would like to communicate the feasibility of a wide-scale biodiversity generating system embedded within the current food system and its potential of integrating information technology, learning processes, community development, and economic resilience, founded on a simple rule-based sequence of activities based on biodiversity and climate dynamical patterns.
I would like to invite them to reflect on a simple question.
Where in the world can we develop a re-generating food biodiversity wide-scale project, oriented to developing seeds for potential climate change scenarios?
I would like them to know that Mexico is top of the list, its megadiversity of soils, climates, cultures, seeds, and traditional practices; high sensitivity to main drivers of climate change, and presence of every major issue of economic, environmental, social, dietary, political, and technological inequality and fragmentation makes us a terrific candidate.
Won’t we learn many things if we try?.