Our vision is to convert all depleted agricultural land to high-yielding, biodiverse farms with the help of the world's smallholders.
This is a map of our soil and the risks we're facing for soil biodiversity, the fundament for all other diversity. The areas with the lowest level of risk are mainly concentrated in the northern part of the northern hemisphere. Not surprisingly, the areas with highest risk are those that reflect the greatest exposure to human activities. Please note that the Sahara desert is not green because all is well. After having lost it all, the Sahara now poses a direct threat through its expansion.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Sweden Foodtech AB
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (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.
Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. (Sony CSL),
Centre Africain de Recherche et de Formation en Synécoculture (CARFS)
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?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
We start in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa. It covers an area of around 274,200 square kilometers. Then all of Earth.
What country is your selected Place located in?
First in Burkina Faso, then locations will be all over planet Earth.
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Burkina Faso is a key country for the development of Synecoculture™ - the underlying farming technique that has resulted in the vision of Terraforming Earth. It is in Burkina Faso that it has been proven that you can take land from fully depleted to ultra-productive (as in 40-150 times higher productivity as compared to a normal field) within 12 months by introducing hyper-diversity; hundreds of different plants in one field.
Synecoculture is an approach by Sony CSL in which ecosystems are artificially created for cultivating a rich variety of crops while also enriching local biodiversity. Proving tests conducted in Japan and sub-Saharan Africa have already yielded substantial results. The intent of the scientific project of Synecoculture is to harness the power of AI to understand complex ecosystems that are too difficult for the human mind alone to comprehend, and apply the findings to further initiatives.
The concept of Terraforming is the outcome of a project between Sony CSL and Sweden Foodtech looking at how new business and financing models could be deployed, based on the science of Synecoculture (and more generally human-assisted augmentation of biodiversity through food production) in order to spread a new farming paradigm resulting in a distributed network of smallholders, innovators/entrepreneurs and food system stakeholders terraforming planet Earth back into shape again. Through CARFS the theoretical discussion becomes practical – the living lab to prove the hypotheses.
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.
Burkina Faso is a former French colony, until 1958 known as Upper Volta. It is home to 20 million Burkinabés that populate a country stretching from the desert of the Sahara in the North to the moist tropics of the South. It is far from idyllic, like so many places on planet Earth.
The 2018 CIA World Factbook summarizes: "Burkina Faso is a poor, landlocked country that depends on adequate rainfall. Irregular patterns of rainfall, poor soil, and the lack of adequate communications and other infrastructure contribute to the economy’s vulnerability to external shocks. About 80% of the population is engaged in subsistence farming and cotton is the main cash crop. The country has few natural resources and a weak industrial base.
While the end of the political crisis has allowed Burkina Faso’s economy to resume positive growth, the country’s fragile security situation could put these gains at risk. Political insecurity in neighboring Mali, unreliable energy supplies, and poor transportation links pose long-term challenges."
While this situation is not unique, it might be slightly worse in Burkina Faso than in most other places, which makes it an excellent testbed for radical disruption. If we can make it happen in Burkina Faso, chances are that we can make it happen in other places as well.
The severity of the situation is stated by Wikipedia:
"According to the Global Hunger Index, a multidimensional tool used to measure and track a country's hunger levels, Burkina Faso ranked 65 out of 78 countries in 2013. It is estimated that there are currently over 1.5 million children who are at risk of food insecurity in Burkina Faso, with around 350,000 children who are in need of emergency medical assistance. However, only about a third of these children will actually receive adequate medical attention. Only 11.4 percent of children under the age of two receive the daily recommended number of meals. Stunted growth as a result of food insecurity is a severe problem in Burkina Faso, affecting at least a third of the population from 2008 to 2012. Additionally, stunted children, on average, tend to complete less school than children with normal growth development, further contributing to the low levels of education of the Burkina Faso population."
Many, many people around the world live under similar circumstances and struggle to make ends meet (currently an estimated 0.9 billion people live under chronic hunger), living of gradually depleting land, slashing and burning their way to new fields that sustain them for a while, caught in an endless cycle of despair where absent rain isn't only a threat to the harvest, but to the ability to send their children to school or that can send entire families from their land.
That said, there is also an eagerness to learn and to grow in Burkina Faso. Friendly people growing good produce. They deserve better, as so many other of the close to two billion smallholders who till the soil of our one and only planet. The fact that farmers in Burkina Faso already have proven the value of Synecoculture makes it a unique showcase and experimental hub for new models.
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.
According to IPBES, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 75 per cent of the land on planet Earth has been affected by human activities. Land degradation has already reduced productivity in 23 per cent of the global land area and over the last 40 years we have lost a third of all arable land according to the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.
The situation for our farmland is already bad and is predicted to become a lot worse.
Burkina Faso is landlocked and prone to natural disasters, including drought and floods. Food and nutrition crises are continuous and many families struggle to protect themselves from severe hunger. Malnutrition is common in women and children. Large amounts of the population suffer from stunted growth and micronutrient deficiencies.
With a changing climate, shocks related to changes in rainfall patterns can be expected to increase and with a poverty rate above 40% (Burkina Faso ranked 185 out of 188 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index in 2015) there will be little to no chances for the Burkinabés to buy themselves out of a crisis. The situation isn’t helped by the rapidly growing population (approx. 3.6% annually). Burkina Faso’s vulnerability to high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition seems chronic.
But then again this situation with a rapidly growing population and food insecurity isn’t unique to Burkina Faso either.
With a projected addition of 1.1 billion people, countries of sub-Saharan Africa could account for more than half of the growth in the world's population between 2019 and 2050. But the population growth doesn’t stop then; it is projected to continue to grow through the end of the century. Food insecurity and malnutrition risks becoming even more wide-spread. Bad farming practices will aggravate the problems.
This is a negative loop that needs to be turned, and not just in Africa but all over the planet. Otherwise we risk repeating and permanenting the global food crisis of 2007–2008 when a drastic surge in food prices lead to high rates of hunger, malnutrition, and political and economic instability in nations across the globe.
Increased food production, however, is not just about increasing the production of what we already produce, it should also result in various lifeforms including plants, animals, and microbes, creating a rich ecosystem. Around this rich natural ecosystem we need to create a rich ecosystem of social, cultural and economic activities that both feeds of and is fed by nature. This is the Synecoculture process that underlies the Terraforming Earth concept.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Over the years we have taken paradise Earth and turned her into an increasingly desolate place, on a path to becoming unsuitable for human life. But what we have wronged we can right. Why talk about terraformation of foreign celestial objects when we can use knowledge and technology to terraform Earth to something that can both serve man and nature?
If the right knowledge, technology and business models can be applied at scale we can change Earth into something new within a few decades time and bring back depleted land. At the same time we can give subsistence farmers opportunities to feed themselves and raise themselves out of poverty. In fact, it is hard to see how Synecoculture could be deployed at scale without activating the world's smallholders.
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.
If we could set the models and examples for how to easily start deploying Synecoculture - it is after all a new model of farming that most farmers can start with after a short and basic introduction - terraforming could happen quite organically, just because it provides subsistence farmers with what they need in order to lift themselves out of poverty. Suddenly, reclaiming lost land will be an opportunity and increased productivity on your existing fields will enable the terraforming of huge swaths of land on Earth. The caveat is that synecoculture does not work with industrial farming methods. The irony that this new and truly green revolution cannot be handled with the industrial methods of the former "green" revolution, is not lost on the project participants.
But it isn't just the smallholders and subsistence farmers that will be better off. We will all benefit from increased carbon sequestration, biodiversity, better tasting produce and new ways to relate to nature. And perhaps we need to challenge our assumptions regarding where growth happens? Perhaps you don't have to leave your land in order to seek your fortune in a city somewhere. With new methods for producing and preserving food, nature could be a new career for budding entrepreneurs in food - the world's largest sector.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
A field in Burkina Faso Before and After applying Synecoculture. It is one year in between the pictures.
Terraforming Earth is no small feat, yet it has to be done if we are to make it as a species. With Synecoculture the underlying method also exists. In order to accomplish this goal the project partners fully embrace the United Nations' SDGs - they are basically all included in a natural way - but will focus extra hard on number 17: Global Partnerships.
Synecoculture is a project growing out of Sony CSL in order to create abundant ecosystems through new agricultural methods.
Synecoculture is an approach in which ecosystems are artificially created for cultivating a rich variety of crops while also enriching local biodiversity. Proving tests conducted in Japan and sub-Saharan Africa have yielded substantial results.
In practice, Synecoculture is about planting hundreds of edible plants (including trees and bushes) together and letting them feed of each other and re-enforcing each other. Just like in nature, but with the very big difference that the density of plant varieties is artificially high. Creating such an environment results in a hyper-productive ecosystem with many various lifeforms including plants, animals, and microbes.
Furthermore, Synecoculture has as its goal to involve various social and industrial activities in new ways to enrich the natural environment and biodiversity, aiming for a positive feedback loop in which cultural diversity creates ecological diversity, and vice versa.
Since every plant in a Synecoculture field grows together and matures at different stages depending on shadowing, proximity to other plants etc. it is impossible to harvest the field with today's industrial methods. If you want food, you venture into the field and see what is ripe and ready. In short; you can have all the food you want, but you cannot run a tractor over the field. For the sake of nature, this is good. It is also good for the people tending the fields since Synecoculture puts the knowledge, and thus the power, of our food back into the hands of those who grow it. New career paths open.
The Earth contains more than 30,000 known species of useful plants with applications in food or materials, but agriculture is presently focused toward growing a small number of specific crops, approximately 200. This bias is destroying the natural environment and damaging biodiversity throughout the world.
A multitude of issues must be considered when trying to optimize growing food. Combinations abound as to which plants to plant, associations between plants, and how to control vegetation succession afterward. Learnings have amassed over millennia of farming, but since the days of the green revolution of the 1960's, those learnings have had to yield to massive industrialization of all parts of the food chain. Providing many secure calories, the green revolution was a success. However, the price we pay today in the form of depleted soils, mono-cultures and food-related malnutrition.
But there is a new way of amassing the "wild" knowledge of yesteryear. Big data analysis and AI are extremely powerful, direct tools for learning these combinations and communicating them to other people. As animals, we humans do not immediately understand how plants attempt to grow or how ecosystems attempt to skillfully circulate materials. Using various sensors to measure environments and activities of diverse lifeforms makes it possible to acquire information with multi-scale resolution and consolidation regarding the current state of ecosystems. We believe that we can transform various information on nature's dynamics in a form that humans can understand its long-term consequences. The intention is to harness the power of AI to understand complex ecosystems that are too difficult for the human mind alone to comprehend, and apply the findings to further initiatives.
This is the post-industrial way to approach the big food production question of our times. We need not sacrifice nature on the altar of food production. Rather we can work with nature. While synecoculture in its most basic form is growing more plants together than we thought possible, technology can help further augment nature.
But it isn't enough with science and data. In lockstep we need to develop the new economic models that can support the growth of Synecoculture. How do you make sure that a society that cannot use the normal industrial methods for food production can reap the benefits of Synecoculture? Food needs new ways of thinking and new combinations of knowledge and technology:
- Can a field of hundreds of different edible plants offer more value than just food? (carbon sequestration, multiple regulation services such as pathogen suppression, enhanced bioactive compounds in food products, etc.)
- Can a Synecoculture field be a target for excursions for an urban-dwelling humanity?
- Could Synecoculture be a way of developing new forms of housing or communities?
- Could Synecoculture give rise to new service models where meals are prepared near the fields based on what is ready to harvest and preserved with new techniques for later consumption?
- Could a Synecoculture field be an investment case or even an asset class?
The answers to the questions above - and many more like them - is a resounding yes! When fundamentally changing the nature of farming by taking the vantage point of what nature can give and going from there, new models can be seen and explored. This project brings together vastly different competencies from literally world's apart. Japanese ingenuity and technology, Swedish business-building skills and, not the least, the farmers and nature of Burkina Faso. In a sense, this combination is Synecoculture too.
If we can terraform Burkina Faso we can terraform any country. Long before 2050 we hope to have created a new food situation for the subsistence farmers of Burkina Faso where they are food secure, have developed new models for preserving food from the abundant fields of the country side and have lifted themselves out of poverty.
And then we go beyond.
In the last 40 years, planet Earth has lost a third of its arable land. By 2050 we shall have taken it back!
Stockholm, Tokyo, Ouagadougou
# Synecoculture is a trademark of Sony Corporation.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Daniel Skaven Ruben at Rockefeller Foundation
Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.
The vision has not developed per se over the course of the refinement phase, but we have developed the plan for how to execute. Synecoculture can be implemented without any advanced methods, but can be further developed and augmented with technology and data capture. That's why the development of the science of Synecoculture will go hand in hand with citizen science and the development of new food system innovations.
Since food is not just about primary production but about the entire system from soil to table and beyond, innovation is needed across the entire value chain.
The method that will be used is therefore, in addition to more science and data, to create multiple case-based innovation programs around Synecoculture, targeted at various parts of the value chain. These programs will be open-sourced so that others can develop their own innovation programs in order to maximize Terraforming.
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).
Individuals from the following companies/organizations have been invaluable in providing input as well as their platforms (either already or going forward) for our project.
ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), deserves special mentioning for taking upon themselves to educate agronomists in 16 African states on Synecoculture, ecowas.int
Ministry of Agriculture, Burkina Faso, mrsi.gov.bf
Allan Savory Institute, South Africa, savory.global
Cookpad, Japan, cookpad.com
Sustainergy, Japan, sustainergy.co.jp
Waseda University, Japan, waseda.jp
Institut des Systèmes Complexes, France, iscpif.fr
Internet Society IOF, Sweden, internet-of-food.org
Flight Ready Systems, USA, flightreadysystems.com
James Beard Foundation, USA, jamesbeard.org
WWF, UK, wwf.org.uk
WWF, Sweden, wwf.se
Axfoundation, Sweden, axfoundation.se
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, Uganda, afsaafrica.org
India Unlimited, India, tastingindiasymposium.com
* more can be found in the appendix
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.
Reaching the refinement phase has enabled us to re-connect with relevant people in our networks in order to get feedback as well as to investigate how they could become future partners and contributors in building on the science of Synecoculture and creating terraforming innovation programs. To describe them all is impossible but they are a diverse bunch; from farmers in Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Sweden and Japan, to US astronauts, scientists, citizen science program developers, experts on freeze drying, top chefs, analysts, senior consultants, policy makers, farmers organizations, tech entrepreneurs and investors. Direct, individual contacts probably number 100+ individuals, men and women, most of them between 30-60 years old, but some very old, like Allan Savory, and some actually teenagers.
Planting the seed of Synecoculture in the minds of potential partners, scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs is just the first step of a process that will enable them to think in new directions. The same goes for policy makers, captains of industry and all other stakeholders.
These and other connections have been made in order to query how various individuals and organizations potentially could contribute to the science of Synecoculture, build future innovation programs and/or to further networking and communication efforts. It should also be noted that a lot of activity has been spent within the participating organizations in order to understand how, given input from various angles, the goals can be achieved.
The refinement phase has also enabled us to get a deeper understanding of what type of communication and what tools we need in order to reach out wider going forward. This has included the "sales pitch" and the material we need to produce; everything from more academic papers to press packages to clear descriptions of the innovation programs that are to be created, to such material as TedX talks and conference presentations.
What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.
In reaching out we have strived to connect with individuals in leading positions and have found our conversations to be very fruitful. Everyone is looking for a new paradigm in food production and biodiversity creation and providing a credible alternative to the current model frees enormous amounts of energy and unleashes creativity in all directions, not the least strategic change.
We have drawn upon the presentation made by Emma Chow from Ellen McArthur Foundation regarding 40 per cent of the world's arable land residing around cities, which clearly points towards the need of innovation programs bringing Synecoculture-grown produce to be processed and consumed in an urban/peri-urban system.
We have been inspired by various citizen science projects such as the National Geographic bioblitz, which is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. Citizen science is now an integral part of our thinking.
Through the Allan Savory Institute on holistic land management we have shaped our thinking around land regeneration to understand how livestock management can add to a Terraforming process.
We have realized that there are technologies out there that all ready now can enable both cheaper, solar-powered freeze drying as well as hyper-local preservation techniques that can be utilized at scale in a new food system. Technological development in areas such as autonomous drones, soil analytics, AR/VR could find new purposes in the context of Synecoculture and terraforming.
We have discussed the potential of crowdfunding and other financing methods in order to provide smallholders with potentially necessary means to risk a transition to Synecoculture or to aquire more land or invest more into the land they already have.
We have listened to input from farmers organizations regarding the necessity to integrate traditions, education, risk mitigation and other factors potentially holding back smallholders from taking up Synecoculture.
We have discussed logistics with representatives from the food sector.
We have discussed the need for new city planning, accounting methods putting soil biota on the balance sheet of farming companies and how to build up new recipe databases for the new, old and previously un-known plants that can be cooked and eaten. Here we have connected with leading chefs.
We have discussed the need for culturally empowered methods to distribute the concept of Synecoculture and the new innovations surrounding it.
We have realized that all land, depleted, used for grazing, productive farmland, parks, planters or forests can benefit from Synecoculture
And we have realized that Terraforming Earth can be part of the Green Recovery after Covid 19. We need more resilience and biodiversity to counter future pandemics. Tapping into the vast resources suddenly available for resurrecting our societies is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change.
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.).
ariam puts on her synecogoggles and ventures into the 1 ha field that supports her and her husband Franck. The trees give shade from the scorching sun and in spite of the heat it is green. She starts to harvest. The signal for ripeness beeps incessantly. “Wild strawberries” says the goggles. The plant consultant must have put them there, Mariam thinks. Wait, they contain 32 of the metabolites Franck needs!
She is interrupted by Faith, the chef who left her Michelin stars to go local with drone take-away. Mariam shares her AR stream.
”Plantjammer says it will go great with Boris’ duck confit. Perfect for the free community lunch meal, Robo can cook it. No rest for the robot!” Faith says.
Boris, the neighbor, moved to Burkina Faso from Russia ten years ago to cure his immune system deficiencies and is an avid duck farmer. Mariam and Franck tends to his and Faith’s fields as well and the line between their economies is barely visible. “I need Robo later for the carbon and biota audit.” Mariam says. “And are we still doing the nutrition donation program for the US?”
“Sure, we still have left from ’37 and the hyperspectral says it’s as good as new. I’ll put them for tumbling”
Letting the wind move freeze-dried produce across the Sahara to the sailing ports on the Atlantic in gigantic tumble-weed looking creations wasn’t a sure-fire way of getting exactly their products to Europe in time, Mariam thought – tumbles could be out for years – but as Franck said: “If we send our solar power into the grid, why can’t we send food into the grid?”
The world of food had truly been changing at a break-neck speed ever since the biodiversity revolution began in the 20’s. Not even the Internet explosion could compare with the Great Leap of the Tropics, putting two billion smallholders on income parity with urban white collar workers thanks to the wealth found in biodiversity mining. Mariam’s goggles beep. “White truffles, what are those good for?” Mariam thought.
Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?
The Synecoculture farming model has at its core resilience and adaptability. By growing a large number of plants it is possible to adapt to gradual climate change by gradually shifting the plant mix. However, the Synecoculture mix does in itself provide resilience to single weather events born out of climate change. The extensive use of trees and bushes provides strong root systems that hold water and ties soil. Biodiversity is the key to combat climate change and also to withstand it. Hyper-biodiversity, such as in Synecoculture, even more so. With the addition of new processing and preservation techniques food can be stored and accessed during times of distress and thus also counteract catastrophes due to freak weather events.
Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?
The Synecoculture farming model has proven that for those utilizing it, yields have gone up radically, as has the variety of plants. While further research is needed to quantify exactly how micronutrient prevalence has been affected in each plant, evidence from tests on tea grown in a Synecoculture environment indicates much higher nutritional content. This means that someone eating according to what comes out of a Synecoculture field will both have enough food, a very diverse plate, as well as food of a higher quality. Potentially also food that can act as medicine. Or save us from the need for medicine.
In the tea example mentioned above one third of the water-soluble metabolites of Synecoculture tea showed different expression pattern from conventional products over several-year comparison. Thoses metabolites are mostly allelochemicals that express long-term health protective effects for human, and about half of the Synecoculture-specific compounds is related to immune response. The Synecoculture tea samples also contained a variety of components synthesized by soil microbial metabolites and ecological interactions. Therefore, the introduction of Synecoculture has the potential to prevent immune-related diseases caused by reduced diversity of gut microbiota and lack of microbial-derived nutrients. Not to mention neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
With the addition of new processing and preservation techniques, alongside with new distribution and business models, Synecoculture farming could also be extended to people not living in the absolute proximity of the place where plants are grown. The positive effects of Terraforming can in that sense be extended to anybody eating the output, irrespective of where he or she resides. With beneficial effects on undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and metabolic disease.
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?
The economics of Terraforming starts with the fact that even depleted land can become hyper-productive. A highly productive and biodiverse natural environment is in itself a precondition for providing a livelihood for all mankind. We must also stress that biodiversity does not only have a value for food production, but that economic values could extend beyond food to such areas as carbon capture and storage, new drug discoveries, new types of materials and new types of services, for instance for recreational purposes.
What regards food production specifically, Synecoculture in its basic form requires manual labor to tend to the fields, to harvest and take care of the produce. Since this labor needs to be more knowledgable about what grows and how to take care of it, you can argue that it is likely that with more knowledge as part of the day-to-day activities, Synecoculture farmers should become better rewarded. Even beyond that, you can argue that new ways of processing and preserving food, closer to the source, will improve living conditions. Some of the jobs that will be created closer to the fields are:
- Master farmer
- Plant specialist
- Data collector
- Soil analyst
- Nutritional analyst
- Food processing professional
- Food logistics professionals
- Carbon auditor
- Synecoculture researcher
With more and different jobs as part of the mix, you can argue that gender equality also will be positively impacted. Farming jobs that used to be a lot about hard manual labor - which typically is considered a "male" type of work, will to a large degree be replaced by a work process based on tending to plants - a traditionally "female" type of work - as well as new jobs that will be steadily more qualified over time as the new food system emerges. While we do not want to engage in male-female stereotype discussions, we see that farm work in the age of Terraforming is based on more value and knowledge than before and that should in itself constitute a fertile ground for more gender equality, as is the expansion of the farmer model into a wider food provider role.
Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?
Of the world's approximately 300,000 plants, 30,000 have been identified as useful - so far (but we only use approx. 200). Furthermore, these plants don't grow in the same place, but what we do have everywhere are the 12 plants and 5 animals that give us 75 per cent of our calories. We have a remarkably poor food culture on planet Earth, especially compared to what could be had. We foresee an explosion of culture as a part of our Terraforming efforts. While you need several hundred different plants to create a Synecoculture field, no field will look the same. In order to be able to take care of what comes out of the soil we need to build new culture in the form of recipes, ways of taking care of the produce, new ways of interacting between farmers and customers and new ways of bringing food to tables far away. It is absolutely impossible to give a vision of how culture will emerge; if it will be waking up traditions long gone, creating new ones, or how far they will extend in a world where digital likely will be even more present than today.
An interesting question in this context is how various local cultures can be brought together through plants. The best potential Synecoculture mix might be to combine plants from various parts of the world, but then we also need to combine cultures, understanding how to grow and cook based upon them. We have always moved plants around and by understanding our ecosystems and how they interact on a deeper level we could be empowered to do beneficial plant transfer and to avoid propagating invasive species.
We also need to consider how food culture will develop through the adding of more biodiversity not only on the farm, but how urban dwellers actually see nature. Are we an integral part of it or is nature something we observe through the windshield of our cars? Artists, irrespective of their trade, are bound to connect with nature in a new way when our relationship to it and understanding of it changes.
Culture is in fact key, since it is the best way of fast-forwarding the change we need to see happen.
Diversity is a good start for both growing things as well as keeping and building culture. And the megadiversity that goes beyond the natural preservation state for its utility and functions - that is the very core of Synecoculture.
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?
We need absolutely zero technological advances in order to start Terraforming the planet through the Synecoculture farming methods. That said, new technological advances can be made in order to increase the speed of implementation as well as understanding all the value provided by Synecoculture. This could be anything from nano-technologies understanding the micronutrient composition of plants, how soil biota develops over time, cheaper and more accessible processing and preservation techniques, new advances in micro financing etc.
We should reflect on the fact that so far, adding technology to our food production system has led to less biodiversity and it is crucial that we now focus on building technology and innovations that add to biodiversity. Through, for example, robotics, the speed of Terraforming could also be enhanced.
New technology and innovation for advancing Terraforming through Synecoculture is something we hope to build or inspire the creation of through our planned innovation programs, but to start - there is no need for new technology in order to get going, just in order to seize on the full potential.
Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?
There are no need for new policies in order to start to Terraform the planet, but new policy could absolutely help increasing the speed of Terraforming. Policy makers could think about the value of biodiversity, if soil biota should be on the balance sheet of farmers, if biodiversity farming should carry tax incentives, if reclaiming lost land should be supported either by grants or credits, how micronutrient data should be displayed (not all carrots are made alike), make sure that food data becomes open and free and think about what public food budgets are used for. Land ownership is in this context and area where policy makers through Terraforming Earth and Synecoculture farming suddenly have new directions to think in. Burkina Faso has actually adapted its constitution thanks to Synecoculture and now includes the right to biodiversity. This was a direct effect of a cooperation between the committee amending the constitution and CARFS, one of the founders of the Terraforming project. The work to educate thousands of agronomists through ECOWAS is also a policy decision being made that leads to facts on the ground.
But there can of course be more. If there were such a thing as an increased focus on citizen science and capturing data on our ecosystems to be able to thoroughly describe them it would add tremendous value. As would an EIS scheme (The UK model for incentivising innovation by letting individuals deduct investments into innovative companies) for investing in reclaiming lost land that would increase financial flows for Terraforming purposes. Could this perhaps even be done on a global level?
How can Synecoculture farmers prove that lost land can become carbon sinks and receive carbon offsetting revenues? Perhaps we could have similar policy measures for incentivising biodiversity as for carbon capture and storage?
These and more are just a few areas where policy could develop in order to facilitate a faster pace of Terraforming Earth into a better shape.
Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.
The six themes are all interconnected and where all do not need to exist in perfect harmony all the time, all can come together in order to accelerate Terraforming Earth through Synecoculture. The environment and diets are the most obvious ones - both will improve - but so will likely also economics (as in increased living standards) and the cultural aspects leading us to consume more diverse and better food and take better care of our ecosystems. We will learn from Mother Nature what she will bring forward in our respective fields and from that will be given economics and new culture. What shall we do with our abundance? What is that plant? When shall we harvest it? How shall we cook it? Shall we save it or sell it and in such case as produce, preserved or as part of a meal? That was an excellent dish, can we find more of that root and those berries or something simliar? How shall we as artists or film makers relate to our new vision of nature? In any system of abundance you find components and dynamics that cannot be foreseen, but for sure they connect and influence each other.
Technology will be there to support the development and while it can and will act as an accelerator, it isn't necessary for things to start happening. The same goes for policy. This said, both technology and policy needs to be pushed as an integral part of the project, simply because we don't have time to not use two of the most important change agents out there.
Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.
Synecoculture field cannot be farmed with industrial methods or - with current methods - provide predictable harvests. This complicates matters if you want to go beyond more efficient subsistence farming and tie Terraforming through Synecoculture into the wider, existing, food system, and possibly also transform that food system for good. The basics of the concept however remains unchanged and we cannot foresee any trade-offs from the conceptual perspective. Trade-offs compared to the initial layout of the vision might however come in various use-cases implementating Synecoculture.
The very nature of large scale projects such as this, however, is that it invites interpretation, which is an integral part of the development dynamics. But at its core is a very interesting law of nature: increased biodiversity increases the value of the output. The potential trade-offs will therefore not reside within the system that we are arguing for, but rather outside of it. Trade-offs will, however, be present as in any grass-root project aiming for sustainability in food production mainstreaming biodiversity.
3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?
- Build a consortium of partners around the concept that provides both reach and financial resources
- Build a highly competent, data driven organization with a compelling story and communication around Terraforming and Synecoculture, which includes projects in all major climate zones
- Produce at least 10 innovation programs of different themes and in different locations, each inspiring at least 10 "clone programs" produced by others
10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?
Have multiple use-cases up and running around Synecoculture in order to prove the model's value in various parts of the value chain (farming, processing/preserving, selling, serving, etc.)
Prove that these use-cases are sustainable from a economic perspective as well as an ecological and social perspective.
Prove that it is good business to take deserted land and reclaim it for growing purposes.
Have a distributed, open source movement established around the concept.
Engage culture in order to quickly change our perceptions of food, nature and biodiversity.
Eventually our Vision can only rely on others seeing what we see and who then start to act accordingly. We can only do our best to kick-start the movement by proving the hypothesis that Terraforming Earth is both possible and sustainable from an economic, social and ecological perspective.
If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?
We would use the funds in order to conceptualize a series of innovation programs and an organization that can deliver them. Then we would use the funds in order to get more funds, i.e. build the case, a compelling communication including proper online presence (terraformers.earth), refine the story-telling components and go on a tour to build a consortium around the concept.
In parallell with this it is our ambition to run a first innovation program around the Synecoculture model farm outside Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso where the aim will be to find ways to increase the uptake of Synecoculture in Burkina Faso and to improve Synecoculture farming in Burkina Faso, and thus to prove the value of innovation programs in this field. To this innovation program we intend to invite our contacts and engage current and potential future partners.
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?
It is time to Terraform planet Earth back into the dynamic ecosystem it used to be and go beyond! Through Synecoculture we have the scientific knowledge how to do it. Now it is time for massive innovation and implementation!
Our current farming practices were invented during the Stone Age and we have refined them ever since. We have however reached the end of that farming paradigm and need a new one that combines biodiversity, ecological thinking and food production.
Synecoculture proves that nature - by creating hyper-diverse, edible ecosystems - can provide plentifully for us in an ecological manner, while storing carbon and restoring lost land, but we need a new food system in order to fully reap the benefits. This involves developing the science of Synecoculture, new technology for understanding and managing land, new methods for processing and preserving food and new business models to reach the consumer.
To start building this new food system requires no unknown or unheard of technology or models. It is fully feasible to introduce in parallell with our current food system.
Our ambition is to invite partners to jointly build on the scientific foundation and to conceptualize and run several innovation/acceleration programs around Synecoculture in order to unleash innovation and entrepreneurship, all in an open manner. Synecoculture provides the foundation of a better food system and our ambition is to change our food practices and terraform Earth back into shape.
Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.
A new food system might need several volumes to be accurately described. Or you realize it is really simple; The more plants you get together, the better they grow. Abundance then leads to new solutions and the demise of the old and devastating food system.