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SUSTAINABLE FOOD FUND A New Economic Model for the Future of Food

Towards self-sufficient, regenerative and resilient eco-agri communities

Photo of Bevan Jones
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Open Food Network SA NPC, Registration No. 2019/427627/08, a community interest non-profit company affiliated to Open Food Network globally.

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.

Open Food Network (

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • Under 1 year

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

Hogsback, Eastern Cape Province

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

South Africa

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

The Amathole municipal district, within the former Ciskei of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa, a neglected area under apartheid.

What country is your selected Place located in?

South Africa

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The cradle of humanity in Africa, where Homo Sapiens first tamed fire and created art, holds a special place in our heart. With some of the oldest rock art in the world, it has overseen millenia of humans living in harmony with Nature. In more recent times, the region became known as the 'Frontier', where the 1820 British Settlers first encountered local KhoiSan and Xhosa people. 

Today, it represents the vast melting pot of the many South Africa cultures that make up the 'Rainbow Nation'. Although it is rare nowadays in the modern rat-race of life, one can still uncover some ancient African traditions and knowledge, living alongside more modern western farms and cities. As a proud resident of the area I want to play a role in developing the area to its fullest potential, in terms of the health of the People and Nature.

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 region is home to both corporatised monoculture farms and subsistence farming communal villages, with the majority of inhabitants speaking Xhosa and English. Soils are highly fertile but infrastructure is poor and under-developed, having suffered greatly under apartheid. Struggle heroes such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were schooled and attended University in the area.

Whilst the region has lost much of its population to the urban centres of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, it is still considered home by many. The concept of Ubuntu or "Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu", meaning that a person is a person through other people, finds its deepest expression here among nature. The San bushmen first observed the passing of time, not through solar calendars such as Stonehenge, but in observing the changing seasonal patterns of animals and plants. They understood they were not masters of the earth, but rather stewards, never taking more than their fair share.

However, whilst Ubuntu speaks to a higher humanity, there is also the more modern concept of "mona" or jealousy, something akin to the "Tall Poppy Syndrome" of Australia. In a society where consumerism is rife, and opportunities are few, it is natural that some will rise above others, creating distrust and envy in a society used to a more simple equality.

Unfortunately the Western consumerist model of centralised agro-processing, warehousing and distribution means that the only affordable diet is concentrated around basic maize and other processed foodstuffs. More diverse and healthier African crops have largely been lost as villages have come to rely mainly on government grants, leading to a handout mentality, boredom, alcohol abuse and disempowerment.

Nevertheless, traditional African foods such as mala mogodu (tripe) and skop (sheep's head) are still enjoyed by many. Umngqusho is cooked with samp, sugar beans, butter etc. and was reportedly Nelson Mandela's favorite dish. Traditional medicine is also widely practiced, with uses for several African plants having being discovered by western medicine in recent years.

Climate varies from dry in the west, to wetter in the east and along the coast. The area is more mountainous towards the north as it encounters the southern Drakensberg mountain range. Established agriculture in the area consists mainly of sheep and cattle farms, and although inroads have been made in land transfer, most large farms remain in white farmer's hands. Most of the rest of the land is community owned, often ruled over by local chieftains, but also overseen by municipal councillors reporting to government.

Although the soils are wonderfully healthy and petrochemical and GMO-free, there is no finance available. Unemployment is rife with a complete lack of skills and little access to markets, to develop the area.

Ultimately the people wish to determine their own destiny by farming their own lands, for their own health and the future of their children.

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.

In 2020 climate change threatens Africa. Current modes of farming (leaching of soil) and animal rearing (overgrazing) only make matters worse. People still view the land as a means of extracting profit and sustainability is only a concept. Even where local farmers would like to produce natural food, they face the two key challenges of no access to funding or markets.

Health and diet suffer on the altar of cheap and convenient food. Large, centralised food producers sacrifice health for shelf-life and economies of scale. Education is lacking to inform about the body-mind benefits of healthy food. Thus, Africa regresses both mentally and physically.

Culture is eroded as Africans adopt western consumerism en-masse. Some of the more enlightened and less-consumerist are decentralising to self-sufficient homesteads within commuting range of cities. Food traditions only now play a role at events such as weddings and funerals.

Most Africans own a smartphone and data costs are a big expense. However, whilst many use tech to educate, others only do social media. Connected communities such as the Open Food Network SA are emerging, but adoption is slow as tech and food have not yet found a mass meaningful nexus.

Government continues to hand out financial grants, eroding self-sufficiency and the work ethic. New policies desperately seek solutions to develop communal land and improve food sovereignty, but action on the ground is weak.

In 2050 the biggest issue facing Africa is the loss of soil and plant biodiversity. Humans will try to artificially re-create soil’s beneficial microbes, as Nature continues to lose her ability to decompose. Hydroponic and other non-soil food production systems will be found lacking in their ability to cycle enough nutrient density into plants.

Climate change has ravaged the land whilst technology is omnipresent. Drones cover the sky, even in remote areas, delivering anything within hours of ordering. The richest humans can be seen speeding across the sky in their personal flight suits.

An evolutionary split will occur amongst Homo Sapiens; those who choose to remain natural and eat from the earth vs. those who alter themselves with cyborg tech, dosing with vitamin and food pills. Although Natural Sapiens also live in cities, they tend to be poorer and find it hard to access healthy, natural food, considering the extreme costs involved.

The richest Natural Sapiens live in luxurious peri-urban zones. Security is paramount, with fierce competition for fresh food and water resources. Although mass produced and chemical food is cheap, Naturals prefer not to eat it. Amongst Altered Sapiens, food is viewed simply as fuel for the body. Naturals continue to preserve the old food rituals, sitting down with friends and family for meals.

As resource competition intensified, humans finally realised the vital role they had to play as stewards (and not masters) of Nature, eventually observing and working with her on positive feedback loops. Protected soil, plant and animal reserves are thus being rebuilt from the devastation they suffered, but only because the right interventions were made in the end.

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

In order to avoid the challenges of such a dystopian future, our food vision will ensure the following :-

Every Eco-Agri Community ("EAC") will be tasked with preserving their soil and nurturing their natural productive environment at all costs. They will also create healthy plant, human and animal interactions for positive Nature-based feedback loops. Although the profit motive and ability to access funding via the Sustainable Food Fund ("SFF") will be a large driver of the above behaviour, they will also do this in healthy competition with other EAC’s to seek out and achieve the best ways of working with Nature.

All food consumers will be able to access local, healthy and affordable food directly via EAC producers and food markets, being completely integrated via the Open Food Network South Africa ("OFN"). Food provenance is clearer and costs are reduced as more local food choices are made available. Food waste is drastically reduced.

The SFF will protect against runaway capitalism cornering food security, or any other aspect of properly functioning civil society. We will do this by working with Government (as representative of the people) as the "Head Steward" of all land, resources and environment (the "Commons") of the country. Whilst private enterprise and EAC’s are thus free to farm, produce energy, purify water and generally develop the Commons that they reside on, they can only do so under the Head Steward, aided by the assistance of the Sustainable Food Fund.

Together, we will all nourish and develop the varied food traditions of the region, embracing all cultures of South Africa. We expect the trilateral model of Head Steward, Sustainable Food Fund and Eco-Agri Communities to be copied world-wide.

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.

Our people will enjoy fulfilling and productive work on land previously under utilised due to lack of funding and lack of market access. Eco Agri Communities will arise and thrive, each one finding its own productive niche and culture, in terms of what works best for local conditions in partnership with Nature.

We will also eat healthier, more nutrient-dense food. The range of food will be more varied and seasonal, ensuring healthier immune systems, bodies and minds. Local ecology will thrive as each EAC works to enhance the natural capital of each other, understanding the inherent mutually beneficial feedback loops in each.

Our people will provide for themselves, becoming more self-sufficient. The greater the productive land becomes, the greater the wealth that is monetised. The SFF will increase the issuance of "OFN Credits" as more fiat currency is introduced onto the OFN to purchase the increased food produced. However, ultimately we all understand that real wealth can only be measured by the health of the soil, and the quality of our relationships. 

We will have achieved what people who are only rich find most annoying, in that what we have cannot be bought with money.

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

“Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found… in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both.”

-Martin Luther King 

Our vision aims to achieve this higher synthesis. We seek to get Government, Communities and Private Enterprise working together via the means of a Sustainable Food Fund. This is how we achieve it...

In terms of a systemic approach, the integration between the various role players is vital. Thus, our model ensures that positive rewards and feedback loops are baked into the system. Essentially each entity becomes interdependent on the other’s success.

As the Head Steward, Government is the nominal “owner” of the Commons, be it the land, water, fauna, flora, energy and other natural resources that arise from, and depend on, the Commons. Ultimately the Commons cannot really be owned, and thus the concept of Stewardship is more relevant.

Private enterprise arises from each Eco-Agri Community seeking to profit from the use of the Commons, for food or energy production, waste-to-resource processing, purified water and hydrogen generation, composting and soil production, preservation of species etc.

Solving Core Challenges

Vitally, our model empowers each local EAC to solve the two core challenges of access to funding and access to markets.

The first is enabled by the Sustainable Food Fund, which pools both food consumer and investor funding upfront. In return for such fiat funding, food consumers receive OFN Food Credits which can be used to purchase food produced from each EAC and offered for sale on the network. For their part, investors receive a leveraged return on their funds, enjoying the pooling benefit of the consumer funds held in the SFF.

As non-profit entities, the SFF and OFN simply need to cover their costs. Thus, free or highly competitive upfront funding can be provided to all EAC producers selling via the OFN. The SFF will clearly need to employ practical verifiers to assess each EAC’s application for funds, as well as maintain responsible lending and capital adequacy requirements, to protect investor and consumer funds.

When an EAC receives funding from the SFF, they go into a negative credit situation for the quantum of funds received. They can clear their negative balances by producing and selling food on the OFN, receiving positive credits directly from consumers, or alternatively via food markets and hubs as participants in the supply chain.

Local food hubs can also make a profit, transferring positive credits from consumers to producers and earning their margins in-between. A subtle point is that this provides food hubs with free working capital as fiat cash is not involved. Clearly, any EAC, food hub or food consumer can withdraw their positive credits into fiat currency at any time via the SFF.

Should an EAC not be able to clear its negative credit balance, it would have to clear this with cash. In a worst-case default situation, it could face potential exclusion from the SFF and OFN environment, and potentially lose their license to access the Commons.

The OFN immediately solves the access to markets issue for food producers within the EAC, whilst enabling more robust local food chains at the same time. The OFN does not dictate how each EAC should act, what they should produce, or the food infrastructure required in-between each hub. It simply exists to facilitate whatever solution becomes most holistically and naturally suitable.

Monetising Nature's Bounty

Ultimately, the greater the productivity of each producer, and the more food that is produced, the greater the number of credits created, bringing in greater amounts of fiat currency until such time as the SFF may issue its own digital currency, or “Commons Coin”. When one really thinks about it, the fairest and most sustainable way to create money is to monetise the bounty of Nature and the productivity of the Human Spirit. Not to arbitrarily print it or issue it when a computer solves a mathematical algorithm.

Every EAC will sign a Sustainability Agreement with the SFF, acting under the auspices of the Head Steward, whose concern is the protection and nourishment of the Commons. Thus, each player becomes wholly interlinked and interdependent on each other for their success :-

- EAC’s depend on the SFF and OFN for access to funding and markets, whilst operating under the auspices of Government (Head Steward), who may earn a tax revenue from the use of the Commons;

- The SFF and OFN depend on investors, food consumers, markets and EAC producers for their raison d'être;

- Government depends on a healthy and thriving population to drive tax revenues, whilst it is in the Head Steward’s interest to look after the Commons from which such revenues are derived.

The twin challenges of health and diet are also now neatly addressed, as local producers and consumers are able to network together to drive healthier food choices, whilst also trading and sharing information with other EAC’s in the network. Surpluses and seasonal foods can be traded within the region which caters for a large variety of foodstuffs. Whilst the OFN is the core enabling open-source technology in use, there will be multiple layers of tech and solution providers who can catapult from, and share in the success of the network.

Ultimately the large, centralised food manufacturers have the most to lose in such a system. However, the benefits in terms of savings on food waste, less diesel miles, healthier food and more sustainable local environments are worth far more than the off-shored profits and few jobs that may be lost. Besides, local job creation will flourish and any workers losing jobs in manufacturing regions can instead relocate to more sustainable EAC’s and enjoy a higher quality of life instead.

Importantly, the food value chain becomes far more transparent as well. Food consumers can link directly to any EAC food producer via the Open Food Network with all value-chain costs and provenance being fully transparent.

Making Healthier, Sustainable Food Cheaper

When one digs deeper into the economics of such a model, we can see that we are monetising the Bounty of Nature, which is potentially infinite. Just like a non-GMO seed, nature produces more and more each year. Thus, the extra credits / funds that are generated can be distributed back as “Nature's Dividend” to all stakeholders. 

Consumers can receive these excess credits as a reward for using the system, making future food purchases even cheaper. Investors can turn their dividends into fiat cash or use them via the wider network as a Commons Coin becomes more established. SFF verifiers and assessors can be paid with food credits created. The healthier the environment, the greater the food production potential, and the greater the number of credits and dividends created.

Possibly the greatest virtue of our model is that it unleashes the ability for anyone to work to earn a living from the Commons, no matter what their personal or financial circumstances are. Each EAC simply has to steward their land in partnership with the Head Steward, under the auspices of the SFF. 

Each Eco-Agri Community is thus free to thrive and to pursue and deepen its own cultures and food traditions. Just as in Nature, the entire system is strengthened as each individual link grows stronger and more self-sufficient. As Aristotle once said, “happiness belongs to the self-sufficient”. Regional food fare and different cultures can all be researched and celebrated on the Open Food Network, with open collaboration among all participants from all regions.

Ultimately the SFF and OFN need to work with each EAC and government policy to help realise such a vision. However, enlightened players will understand the win-win-win nature of such collaboration and that, when Nature wins, everyone wins.

Perhaps the biggest winners in South Africa would be government itself. Finally, there is a solution that allows for productive use of communal land, whilst at the same time ensuring that government itself (the Head Steward) is responsible for the welfare of the land and resources for future generations.

Our model will also enable government to move away from the debilitating social grants model and handouts mentality. After all, who needs a social or basic income grant when you can instead obtain free funding to work your own land for a greater dividend that government could ever provide? This will free up government to instead assist with caring for the most vulnerable members of society instead, who, although they might not be able to participate physically, can still be involved with other aspects of the vision.

There is no doubt that this vision offers a systemic solution with simply astounding transformative potential for the region. It is deeply rooted in local communities and truly inspiring and motivating for all stakeholders.

Where such a vision to be realised in South Africa, the country may find itself leading the world towards Martin Luther King's higher synthesis of capitalism and communism. It would be wholly appropriate for the country that gave the world the concept of "uBuntu", to show the world how to finally make it real.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

We had to move from concept to a feasible working model that achieved all objectives. Our vision called for a synthesis of local food production, leveraging tech and finance, whilst serving all our community. Thus, we developed in line with the refinement goals:

Partnerships with stakeholders

- immersed ourselves in the lives of food producers on the ground

- cast our net widely for the right tech & finance providers

- interacted with community job seekers, food consumers & service providers

Partnerships created a two-way flow of information

- shared insights and feedback further refined our vision

Visualisation & testing

- as our model developed, we tested various scenarios and hypotheses against it

- results enabled further insights and feedback, thus further refining our vision

Final Submission

Covid-19 helped us also understand and integrate new signals e.g. fragility. As Mother Nature cannot speak for herself, we had to simply observe and discern what might work best.

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).

We co-operated with local community organisations, government development agencies, national and international private sector companies and entrepreneurs, as well as local NGO's, non-profits and artists.

Our core partnership group includes:

- Open Food Network (providing international software and support,

- Vegado Agri (local community food producer,

- Thyume Valley Beekeepers (local community honey producer and beehive rental for farmers)

- Payper (finance app developer,

- Thrive Centre (local agri, food, permaculture, regenerative, biodynamic etc. experience,

- Art 2 Uplift (social upliftment artists,

There are numerous other individuals and organisations that meaningfully contributed, albeit less than 10 hours. We hope to develop these into strong partnerships as well going forward. See Appendix I for the full list.

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.

To include as many stakeholders as possible, we integrated our Google Earth GIS database of all farms and villages in the area, with a systems-thinking approach on the six vision themes.

We also merged our GIS database with latest available South African census data, giving us an accurate picture of our wider Amathole community. We then mapped known individuals and enterprises within a 10km radius of our home base of Hogsback, delineating between potential farmers, existing food producers or service providers, cultural groups or others who could meaningfully partner in some way etc. This database continues to grow and become more refined over time.

The systems approach naturally highlighted the inter-connectedness of the various external role players, with the number of links between each one helping us refine our focus. From these approaches we developed a final target list for a telephonic survey, to determine who we could engage with more fully:

- village food consumers and subsistence farmers with an age range from 16 - 76

- commercial farmers, tourist operators, foresters and sawmills

- NGO’s and researchers, government departments and development agencies

- food processors, restaurants, waste composters, retailers and small businesses

- potential investors, tech entrepreneurs and other thought leaders

Not all participated but this process was particularly useful in grounding our thinking and highlighting potential weaknesses in some of our initial vision assumptions. In total we engaged with 25 individuals and groups, of which 6 joined our core partnership group. See Appendix II for the systems diagram.

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

1) Local Food Soars

In the last 90 days, the global Open Food Network has experienced over 800% growth, due to a surge in community supported agriculture, and consumers connecting directly with local food producers. Relevance: We create local food networks to benefit consumers and producers.

2) Food Poverty

Food is unaffordable. Government grants barely cover basic household items and foodstuffs. Diets are woefully lacking in fruit and vegetables. As agricultural economies of scale hit their limits, and package sizes are cut to the bone, more people are falling into food poverty. Relevance: Our model lowers the cost of food as the bounty of nature increases.

3) Anti-Fragility

As we draw away from Nature, we grow more fragile, depending on corporate supply chains and government for our daily bread. “Antifragility is beyond resilience.” - Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Relevance: Our model develops antifragility amongst interconnected participants, each supporting and benefitting from the other.

4) Back to Nature – Ruralisation & Self-Sufficiency

Helen and Scott Nearing pioneered “The Good Life” in the 1930’s whist Aristotle observed that, “Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient”. Recently, over 50% of YouGov poll respondents hoped to make positive lifestyle changes after lockdown. Increased risk of COVID-19 transmission in densely populated metros is also forcing many to return to rural family homes. Relevance: We work in either a rural or urban setting by strengthening circular economy links.

5) China pilots digital currency

China will become the first nation to have its own digital currency, widely interpreted as a challenge to the Dollar’s dominance of global SWIFT settlements. (Economist, May 2020) Relevance: Our model introduces a credit-based system that could also become a digital currency.

6) Supply Chain Vulnerability

Businesses should increase the visibility of, and shorten their supply chains, to be nearer to customers. They should also leverage new technologies and evaluate different scenarios to adapt to changing circumstances. (World Economic Forum, Feb 2020) Relevance: Global supply chains will become increasingly differentiated as local networks first source their own requirements amongst themselves.

7) Return on Experience (RoX)

Increasing commodification of goods makes people crave a more sensual experience, based in physical community with tangible benefits around health and sustainability (PwC SA, 2019). Relevance: All growth and meaning is experiential, especially around food. 

8) “Google it”, “Zoom you”

Zoom has highlighted what an ultra-connected digital life is like. Growers can plant potatoes from 8–10am and Zoom with suppliers by 10:30am. By 12pm they can Zoom into an online research forum, whilst after lunch they could be back out in the field ploughing. Relevance: Online connections eliminate time lost to travel and help create focus, leaving more time for meaningful connections and work within our own 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.).

In 2020 Thandi Mbena was a 35-year old chicken farmer in the Thyume Valley, working from sunrise to sunset without much progress. The valley was barren and eroded and Thandi was the only one scraping a livelihood from the land, with everyone else dependent on grants.

In 2050 Thandi and her family rise with the sun as usual, and after a healthy breakfast, meet to plan their deliveries of fresh grain and vegetables. Part of the pleasure is catching up with friends whilst delivering to the distillery, millers, pizza ovens and gourmet vegan kitchens. For some reason, deliveries to the whisky distillery always take a little longer.

For sales further afield, the family uses their drone fleet which covers over 600 km under solar power. Of course, everything is networked, with instant payment and provenance verified.

Jabu, Thandi's eldest, is the drone pilot, who today is conducting an aerial survey of new acreage. The valley is now so abundant that he could plant almost anywhere, but Thandi recently returned from Central Africa with a rare variety of Teff and wants it perfect. The drone senses optimal conditions, from the soil-food-web to the nutrient or pH profile.

No-one requires funding anymore and producing awesome food is now a highly desirable job. Neliswa is the family’s celebrity organic grower in that regard. In fact, so much healthy food is now produced in the valley for sale to other areas, that local food costs have almost fallen to zero, as profits are returned to consumers who fund production. Ruralisation has seen the area thrive, although strict criteria for stewarding Nature are still maintained.

Tonight, the village is hosting a feast and 30-year celebration of the Sustainable Food Fund. As the first recipient in 2020, Thandi is guest of honour. The event will be cast in virtual reality across the more than 700 other eco-agri communities that followed Thandi’s village, each one going on to create their own unique mix of culture and enterprise.

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

The WWF has identified the Amathole region as part of the 8% of South Africa’s land area that provides over 50% of the country’s surface water (WWF Report, SA’s Water Source Areas, 2013). See Appendix III for the map. It is also the only area in the Eastern Cape that provides water for most rivers in the central region of the province. Thus, it is vital to protect the Amathole area, especially our Thyume Valley.

Whilst no-one can predict the exact changes that climate change will bring, it seems evident that we can expect more volatile and unpredictable weather. Our area is used to wild swings in climate, from freezing snow recorded in every month except February to dry sunshine and heat recorded above 25° in every month of the year as well. However, it is the flow and preservation of water that is most vital, specifically protecting against rain and flood-water erosion risk, especially as we should expect more torrential, destructive rain going forward.

Thus, in our mountainous area, it would be most beneficial to construct swales, with leaky-weirs and numerous small cascading reservoirs, combined with runoff sites to continually refill ground water aquifers. Clearly, protecting and enhancing our indigenous forest to preserve soil holding capacity is also vital.

However, our Food System does not prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution for every area that we will support. Instead, the Sustainable Food Fund employs eco-agri community extension officers, to visit with potential farmers and plan for the best and most holistic outcome for Nature, first and foremost. Because when we let Nature thrive, we will thrive. When we protect our soil, it protects us.

Ultimately, we must not fall into the usual Homo Sapian trap of trying to control Nature and fight what is coming. Our best course of action is therefore to observe how Nature adapts to climate change and to bio-mimic some of these adaptations, whilst being cognisant that our actions are not making matters worse. For this, we will look to pioneer plants, insects and animals which should be preserved at all costs.

We can also look toward new climate-adapted varieties of plants to suit changing conditions, whilst always ensuring sufficient rainwater storage and gravity-fed smart irrigation techniques are used. Indeed, there may even be the opportunity to integrate hydro-power generation with food irrigation.

Whilst we do not ever want to interfere with Nature, our varied topography and natural resources offer us many different potential biomes that we can also explore. For instance, we could temporarily enclose small forested mountainous river sections with geodesic domes to simulate more tropical conditions, or do something similar on flatter, drier terrain, to create more desert-like conditions for algae and bio-hydrogen processing. These experiments could help to increase the range of crops we could grow for food, energy and products, as well as adapt our growing seasons if necessary.

Importantly we will also integrate all human activity and waste into the system, either for energy generation or for nutrient re-cycling. Clearly, we will only utilise bio-compatible cleaning products, not bio-degradable (as even crude oil is bio-degradable), and preferably made using local resources such as citrus essential oils.

Each area should ultimately be designed to be self-sufficient in terms of its own naturally available composting resources e.g. be able to produce its own inoculated biochar, mycchorhizae and effective and indigenous micro-organisms. The links between local animal husbandry, waste composting and food production will be vital, ensuring they align with naturally existing processes. Beekeepers and other pollinators will also be crucial.

We can do no better than employ some of the above basic principles as we face the uncertain future of climate change. It is going to be a moving target and anyone producing natural food will need to realise this, with rapid adaptation being the core criteria required for survival. As humans, we need to stop trying to manage and control, and instead be vigilant in observing Nature instead. We should always remain fully informed but be guided towards the most optimal solutions by Nature. For she will show us the way if we are wise enough to get out of the way and let her.

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 latest data from the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES) indicates that 28% of South African households were at risk of hunger and 26% experienced hunger in 2012, mostly due to the unaffordable cost of, and access to food.

South Africa thus typically suffers from low birth weights and undernutrition in an environment where large food corporations have become the only option, offering food of questionable nutrition that is cheaper than healthy alternatives. Government’s social cash grants have made food insecurity worse as previously self-sufficient sustainable farmers have lost the skills and ability to provide their own more diverse and healthier food.

Undernutrition among children is especially high, with the prevalence of stunting sitting at around 30% of children under three. At the other end of the scale, around 20% of children aged between two to five were classified as overweight, often due to high levels of process sugar and fat in their diets, with little nutrient uptake.

South Africa also has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. One reason for the purchase of formula milk is that it is perceived as modern in communities obsessed with brands and keeping up appearances.

Our strategy to address the above issues is five-fold: -

1) Food Diversity: Ensure that each Eco-Agri community is capacitated to produce a diverse range of foodstuffs, including copious amounts of fresh, seasonal vegetables, fruit and nuts. Within the Amathole region, we have enough diversity in our soils and growing seasons to be able to produce a wide range of product. For example, certain flat areas could be producing staples such as potatoes and wheat, whilst more mountainous and specialised areas could be producing more high energy, nutrient dense goji berries. There are countless more examples of such diversity we could offer.

2) Food Security: We need to ensure that more high-end, healthier foods are available to all under even the most basic of incomes. We deal with how our food system ultimately makes food cheaper and cheaper within the "Economics" theme.

3) Exercise: Incentivising people to work, especially on their own land, brings its own inherent rewards. It encourages exercise as an integral part of daily life, whilst also reducing dependency on alcohol.

4) Branding: With the incessant focus on brands, the SFF will ensure that local, healthier foods are branded with upbeat, aspirational messaging versus the more staple foodstuffs that will be sold in bulk, typically unbranded.

5) Education: A concise educational program will be undertaken for young mothers to ensure they are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, and infant nutritional care. Around each enterprise that is funded, we would like to also support a community group of older women to guide the younger women, passing on both cultural traditions and knowledge that is otherwise being lost.

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 simple answer is that the job creation potential of our economic model and food system is limitless. Jobs will be created wherever consumers are willing to purchase products and services from a local circular economy network such as the Open Food Network (“OFN”). Those jobs will be created by entrepreneurs starting their own businesses and women and youth especially need to be encouraged and supported. Especially where their latent talents and energy can best be utilised i.e. there is no barrier to entry to job creation.

Our economic model creates wealth from the ground up, with consumers (aided initially by kick-starter investors) funding all the upfront investment and getting to share in the profits. This is probably best explained using our example of Thandi...

Assume that Thandi wishes to expand her farming enterprise and approaches the Sustainable Food Fund (“SFF”) for free upfront funding. After being verified by our field agent, she receives her cash funding and goes into production, although she now has a negative Commons Coin Balance (a "short" position). See Appendix IV for a worked example of a funding cycle.

Thandi now also needs compost and to rent beehives to pollinate her crop. She would also like to deliver in bulk to a market or hub, instead of making lots of small deliveries herself. Thus, a local composter, beekeeper and retail store owner also approach the SFF and qualify for funding under their business plans. All these entities are inter-dependent on each other to succeed. Each one has created at least one job, more likely several in each case. Importantly, the only thing necessary to start was the entrepreneurial drive required.

Note that each of these entities receives just enough up-front capital for seeds, equipment and working capital etc. to get started. The profit comes later.

Thandi now produces her first crop and is ready for market. She sells her crop to the retailer who briefly goes further into a negative Coin balance. However, the retailer marks up Thandi’s crop and starts selling to consumers, who all already have positive Coin balances, having exchanged their cash for Commons Coins earlier. In the meantime, Thandi pays her composter and beekeeper in Commons Coins, who also now start to reduce their short, or negative, coin positions.

In due course, Thandi and the retailer, as well as the beekeeper and composter will all end up with positive coin balances, reflecting their profit margins and productivity gains that they brought to the table. The end consumers have ultimately funded the entire chain, and are no worse off than before, as they received what they wanted at a price they were happy to pay.

In the meantime, the SFF has invested most of the initial investor and consumer cash i.e. it operates under strict capital adequacy requirements. This pooled cash has earned a leveraged return. Furthermore, when anyone withdraws cash from the fund, by exchanging their positive Coin balance for cash, the fund charges a withdrawal fee. After paying its field agents and fixed costs, the non-profit SFF can now distribute surplus profits back to the investors and consumers, as Nature’s Dividend.

Thus, food has just become cheaper and we have created several jobs where none existed before.

The entire process can now be repeated. For instance, a local food miller is interested to mill Thandi’s wheat into flour for making artisanal stone-ground breads. The miller approaches the fund, starts up operations and ultimately is also paid by local consumers using their positive Coin balances once more. The consumers are only too happy to pay for healthy, local food, produced at a price cheaper than commercial alternatives. Especially as they are now starting to regularly receive dividends from the Fund as well.

Other food growers soon hear about this, whilst restaurants and tourist operators are also attracted to the area. More composters and beekeepers are needed. Someone decides to try their hand at distilling Thandi’s grains. More people open shops and produce more value-added food. Soon enough, significant flows of consumer cash are having to be continually converted into Commons Coins to buy all the products and services being created.

If we stuck with cash, then more fiat currency would have to be printed somewhere to keep up with all the production. Of course, this won’t cause inflation because the cash is only required to back already existing production. It’s not being air-dropped by some central bank who can only pray that it somehow finds its way into production and doesn’t instead end up in some Swiss bank account somewhere.

However, an even better solution is to simply transact in the Commons Coin going forward and forget about moving in and out of cash every time. The area has now become robust and self-sufficient enough that external SFF funding is no longer required.

Time for the SFF and its kick-starter investors to move onto the next area and repeat the process.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

It is vital to note that the SFF and OFN do not dictate how any Eco-Agri community should evolve, or what cultural elements should be present or not. Instead, we exist to simply facilitate what each community has either already built up, or desires to have.

For instance, the traditional healer tradition within our region is still highly respected, fulfilling different social and political roles in the community, including divination, healing physical, emotional and spiritual illnesses, directing birth or death rituals, finding lost cattle, and narrating the history, cosmology, and myths of Xhosa culture. 

There are two main types of traditional healers within the Nguni societies of Southern Africa i.e. the diviner ("sangoma") and the herbalist ("inyanga"), being consulted by approximately 60% of the population, in parallel with modern medical services. 

These are typically run as business enterprises in their own right, and thus are vital consumer services that can also be funded by the SFF, each enterprise repaying their negative fund balance in due course from the positive Coin credits received from their customers. 

In similar vein, we would encourage youth groups, artists, actors and other performers to emerge and apply for funding support as well. However, culture is often separate from the more basic commercial endeavors of life. Thus, communities must find ways to financially support the cultures and traditions that they wish to support and preserve.

These could include distributing a share of consumer dividends received from the SFF to go towards supporting local artists and performers. This after all, is the way of Ubuntu, and such sharing comes naturally to African people.

Furthermore, our digital platforms such as the OFN, and the wider SFF platform itself, will showcase each community and its various cultural aspects. This provides an opportunity for each community to curate its own digital presence and highlight those cultural aspects for which it seeks to become more widely known and recognised by.

Of course, as each community becomes more viable and established, it attracts further interest from outside, with tourists and other interested parties being drawn in, especially as we already reside in a highly desirable tourist destination. The SFF and OFN will do everything in their power to ensure that cultural traditions are held high and preserved, seeking any which way it can to support such structures.

After all, just like Nature, the ability of the community to prosper only becomes stronger as the level of diversity increases.

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?

Our goal for 2050 is to facilitate self-sufficient, regenerative and resilient eco-agri communities. In many ways we are agnostic as to the technology required, and much tech today will likely be significantly outdated over the next few decades. We thus don't need to rely on any particular technological advances to meet our vision by 2050.

We also believe that several black swan events and technological advances, that we cannot hope to predict now, lie between 2020 and 2050. Of course, we will embrace all technology that offers an increased quality of life for any Eco-Agri community, as well as tech that assists Nature to function most optimally.

It's thus probably not wise to speak of specific tech advances that we wish to see but rather to speak of the general usage of tech that we feel would be most useful to our communities going forward:

1) Sensing Tech - we believe in the pleasure of being on the land and having our hands in the soil, feeling it, tasting it etc. In this regard, digital gloves that could immediately sample and sense the various aspects of soil would be awesome. For instance, the soil structure, food web, pH, cation exchange capacity, nutrient profile etc.

Soil gloves would be for very specific areas and could thus be combined with aerial drone surveys to cover larger areas. Drones could also undertake sonar and magnetic surveys, not only to ascertain crop suitability, but also to map underground water aquifers and geological intersections such as sills and dykes that could impact on agricultural productivity.

2) Educational Tech - we believe in using tech to educate. Whether it's immersing a new farmer amongst a 3D VR field to show different stages of crop growth or viewing down into the microscopic, structural elements of food and plants. Holographic videos that show seed propagation, ploughing and harvesting techniques, or food preparation using different recipes would also be most useful.

Immersive, group-based education in dedicated community spaces, would be ideal. As would the ability for immediate neural adaptation to the course content being offered, based on feedback response from viewers. In fact, as most educational content will likely be powered by networked and streaming AI in 2050, we expect great potential for our communities to offer original course content back into global networks. This is another potential revenue source for each community.

3) Financial Tech - we expect our relationship with PayPer (and Vollar, "volunteer Dollar") to be most beneficial going forward. PayPer is agnostic as to which digital currencies can be held in its wallet, focusing instead on the social aspects of currency, and the inter exchangeability of each. Vollar is more focused on digital currencies or tokens that incentivise and reward beneficial, mostly voluntary community actions.

We believe this will become a much more important feature as people again draw closer to each other, considering the greater good of their communities as a better form of wealth than individual materialism. Once again, the principle of Ubuntu will shine through in the tech that we support for digital payments.

4) Product Tech - Needless to say, all payment tech, as well as stock and logistics management tech, will make use of some form of the blockchain, assuming that is what it will still be called in 2050. The main use case for this would be for provenance and quality verification e.g. immediately highlighting the origins of all ingredients in a pizza about to be ordered. This would most likely be integrated into some form of wearable, scanning device. 

Ideally this would help with reducing toxins and pollutants at source, whilst also controlling potentially illegal substances in the food we consume e.g. ensuring there is no banned rhino horn in your spice mix.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

Originally, we envisioned a close working relationship with Government, as the Head Steward of all land to be utilised in each Eco-Agri community. However, the issue of land ownership in South Africa remains highly contentious, with Government's stated policy of Expropriation Without Compensation still potentially on the table.

Thankfully, this would not apply to any land held within the various communities of our Amathole District, and further up into the Eastern Cape as well. The reason for this is that these areas were all traditionally black-owned land already under Apartheid, being known more commonly as the Ciskei and the Transkei at the time.

Today, all land in our target communities is nominally held by the State, with "ownership" vesting in established Traditional Leaders, governed via the Department of Traditional Affairs. There is a healthy tension that exists in this setup. Traditional Leaders claim their authority from various houses of royal descent, which many more rural dwellers consider superior to municipal ward councillors.

Government, for its part, exercises its authority through its district municipalities, although the lack of service delivery of basic services, such as power and water, is often a bone of contention. Thus, each traditional leader and ward councillor keep each other on their toes and accountable to the people.

Whilst it would be nice to partner with Government and for each community to sign an environmental stewardship agreement with the Head Steward (government), this is clearly not going to happen in the short term. Meanwhile, there are no policies that are required for, or that interfere with, each and every community to decide for itself the best use of the land that they reside on.

It is clear that the SFF will need to establish excellent working relations with every Eco-Agri community that it intends to work with. This will require the involvement of both the relevant traditional leader, as well as the ward councilor. Each community also typically has its own council that speaks for the community.

Alignment must be sought with all members of the community benefiting. This is simply a matter of patient engagement, relationship building and ensuring that all voices are equally heard. This principle of action and Ubuntu trumps hollow words and empty plans in Africa every time.

There are also no policies restricting the use of land or environmental constraints for any of the proposed activities that we envision each community undertaking. However, certain regulations and guidelines exist for activities such as food processing, waste composting, alien vegetation eradication etc. and we need to remain cognisant and compliant of all relevant regulation at all times.

Clearly, we also want every community to operate along organic, biodynamic, regenerative, permaculture etc. principles, and once again there are no policy restrictions in this regard. However, various industry bodies have sprung up in South Africa to self-regulate their members along such lines. We will ensure that every community we support becomes an active subscribing member to these industry bodies.

The one policy area we need to remain vigilant about is the need for regulation as a community investment fund, especially in the retail consumer sector. There already exist informal structures for such schemes, such as South Africa’s various stokvels, or savings clubs. However, the quantum, and use of funds under the Sustainable Food Fund will eventually become both greater and more complex than a simple club.

We are meanwhile confident that our first “proof of concept” pilot community project will fall way below the need for regulation. Nevertheless, we remain on top of the requirement for this, and fully understand the path required to become regulated as a financial services provider, which is quite a common and standard process in South Africa.

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

Appendix II details how we used the principles of Systems Thinking to discover relevant stakeholders that connect each of the 6 themes together.

This exercise became more useful as we explored what was important to each stakeholder. For example, economic collapse and climate change remain the crucial macro-factors affecting each stakeholder across all of the themes.

What also became clear is that the different entities seem to employ different approaches to tackling each theme e.g. government take a much more macro, consultative view whereas a fintech entrepreneur is only interested in their particular niche.

For us, the three most core themes at the root of everything are "Diet", "Economics" and the "Environment". These 1st order themes connect with, and affect absolutely everything else, in terms of what you eat, what you can afford to eat, and how what you eat is made. 

Our vision is utterly dependent on the environment being most centrally placed, because we are relying on the bounty of Nature to create the wealth being produced. Nature can only produce healthy food in abundance when she is healthy. 

Thankfully the environment is gaining increasing global importance and hopefully we will soon see it as central to a new financial order, and not simply a coat of green paint for a marketing department or a line item for an ESG or Impact Investor.

Our vision also clearly offers a compelling solution to solving the economics of food. Because ultimately people will only vote for lasting food systems change when their wallets allow them to.

The 2nd order themes of technology, culture and policy are all of course inherently vital. However, they will be more important for certain groups than others. Technology is clearly emerging as another central theme going forward, in that it is now omnipresent and growing stronger as the amount of network nodes increases.

Culture is a unique defining aspect of every Eco-Agri community, and will emerge as the defining identity and wealth of each one. Being so unique it seems almost a shame to try and force connections to other areas. 

Policy is of course the principal domain of government and it should be clear that we prefer anti-fragility, self-sufficiency and less reliance on strong governments. But of course one cannot ignore government and must therefore remain on-side at all times.

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

We believe that the following are non-negotiable aspects of achieving our vision:

1) Healthy, diverse, locally produced food that enhances cultural traditions

2) Food that becomes cheaper and cheaper as Nature’s abundance grows

3) Self-Sufficient Networked Communities producing enough for self-consumption, trading excess production for other economic goods

At this stage we’re not willing to concede that any trade-offs need to be made. We would far rather see a situation where a potential trade-off becomes an opportunity instead.

However, we’re not naïve enough to think that we won’t face obstacles, or forced compromises, even as we are lucky enough to have a blank canvas in each and every Eco-Agri community that seeks support from the SFF and OFN.

The people are willing and the land is rich with potential.

Possibly the biggest challenge we will face is the threat of “Mona”, Ubuntu’s ugly step-sister. Mona is the Xhosa equivalent of the tall-poppy syndrome, or jealousy of some else’s success. This is why it is so vital to ensure that absolutely everyone is onboard at village level. However, education and the realisation that hard work brings its own reward, usually empowers others to want to succeed as well.

At a macro level, certain Eco-Agri communities will produce more of one product than another community, especially in the beginning with only a few producers being active. In that context, potatoes are not as valuable as goji berries for instance. Thus, the SFF must clearly understand its funding criteria in every individual case, with the field agent becoming a vital pre- and post-funding resource and link to each community.

The OFN will also play a vital role in finding the most efficient markets for all producers. That may be in one's own community first and foremost, or it may be a trans-national sale to a region that has none of the product being produced. Pricing is of course up to the sellers in each case, aided by the OFN’s various online market tools, and other circular economy suppliers and participants .

Other compromises might be more granular and local. For example, we may need to look at alternative crops to the ones that were first considered most ideal. Ground and climate conditions may conspire against us, creating defaults amongst producers still sitting with negative balances on their accounts. 

However, where “trade-offs” or compromises exist, the SFF will respond by refining its own strict “risk management” protocols.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

1) Operationalise (6 months)

We already operate the Open Food Network SA. Within the first 6 months we will establish another non-profit entity, the Sustainable Food Fund NPC, and capacitate it with monies from the Rockefeller Food Vision Prize, to fund and support the first food producers in the Thyume Valley as the core of our pilot project. 

2) Pilot Project Results (2 years)

Within the first 2 years we will have fully refined and documented our business model, with our initial pilot project continuing to operate and become self-sufficient. We expect to initiate at least one other EAC project during this time, whilst also bringing on several new research and collaboration partners.

3) Investor Pitch (3 years)

Within 3 years we will have a game-changing platform to create jobs and wealth, grow food security and bring about positive environmental change to any similar community within the Eastern Cape. On the basis of that we will then undertake an investor roadshow to scale up the project for maximum impact.

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 want to be the de-facto national reference point for rural community agriculture. Specifically, we would want to achieve the following targets:

- Initial couple of EAC pilot projects are now completely self-sufficient and exhibiting strong organic growth, attracting new enterprises and participants on a regular basis

- Strong market off-takes in place via the OFN, which has also experienced tremendous growth as a separate entity in its own right

- At least 10 new EAC’s under development funding, with over 100 enterprises being funded in total, and at least 500 new permanent jobs created, especially for women and youth, with many other seasonal jobs also being created

- An extensive and robust SFF network is established, partnering across government, research institutions, conservation agencies, industry bodies, other farmers and suppliers

- Communities are starting to differentiate themselves through their product offerings and cultural experiences, whilst our experience in funding and managing projects is deeply embedded across our network

- Importantly, we would like to see that consumers in our first few pilot projects are now seeing regular benefits of cheaper, healthier and more diverse food, as they continue to receive more dividend flows from the SFF

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

Easy to answer this one! We would use around $150,000 as seed funding to start the Sustainable Food Fund, proving the working concept exactly as we have described under the “Economics” theme. This would immediately create several jobs and sustainable enterprises.

The other $50,000 would be reserved for initial setup and operating costs, including a contribution to the global Open Food Network team for ongoing support and development. We expect proof of concept to take no longer than 6 months and this amount will easily cover all costs during that time. 

From that point on, we believe we would be highly attractive to ESG and Impact investors, and would seek to expand the Fund, scaling up operations and aligning with relevant consumer financial regulation i.e. registering as a regulated financial services provider. We would partner with suitable fin-tech and agri-tech providers, either as JV partners, or separate, but with a revenue model and similar non-profit, environment-first approach to ours.

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?

There are a few themes we would like to share with the world, which we believe are becoming even more relevant today:

1) uBuntu

As proud sons of Africa's soil, we would love for the land that gave the world the concept of "uBuntu", to show how to finally make it real. This means finding the fullest expression of community, firmly rooted in Nature. It means understanding that the real wealth of an area lies not in material possessions, but in the relationships between families and friends, and in the shared soil that makes it all possible.

2) Nature

We grow ever more fragile as we draw further away from Nature. Becoming sovereign and self-sufficient once more empowers us, but Nature benefits too. For as we start thriving, we realise the interconnectedness of all things, and of the vital importance of protecting and nurturing Nature, that in turn protects and nurtures us. When we protect the soil, it protects us.

3) New Economy

We firmly believe that a higher synthesis of capitalism and communism, as per Martin Luther King's comment, is in the making. We believe that the new economic model we have developed for food could be utilised even more broadly. When consumers fund production, and benefit from the profits of that production (instead of only passive investors), then we have achieved a more equitable, circular economy for the creation of wealth itself. If Nature were forced to create a monetary system, we are sure that this is the route she would take.

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

Please see attached document - SUSTAINABLE FOOD FUND.pdf


Join the conversation:

Photo of Amy Mattias

Great job on the video! It makes your vision clear and engaging. The Commons Coin is a brilliant idea and well branded. Looking forward to seeing your vision come to fruition!

Photo of Bevan Jones

Thanks Amy Mattias, I enjoyed your video and the work you guys are doing too. Inspiring stuff!

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