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What does it mean to be “smart” on planet Earth?

20 December 2019

In science, we measure intelligence as the ability to solve problems through a goal-directed action, like ‘scavenging for food’ or ‘running away from danger’. The more complex the problems an organism can solve, the more complex its intelligence.

The original drive for the evolution of intelligence is survival. Indeed, survival is the ‘ultimate problem’ that needs to be solved by all organisms on this planet.

What does it mean then, for a species, to be able to paint the Sistine Chapel, or to be able to reach the moon, when it cannot guarantee the survival of its own grandchildren on this planet?

Should a species’ ability to survive on Earth not be the ultimate emblem of its intelligence?

If so, homo sapiens is performing pretty poorly: the average life of a species on Earth is 5 million years, we put our own survival at risk within only 300,000 years.

“If we want to survive climate change, we need a revolution of our perception of humanity in relationship with the other species that populate this planet. We are not the point; the network of species coexisting across the globe is the point”

With these words, scientist and writer Stefano Mancuso, set the scene for the 10th International Forum on Food and Nutrition. The event, organized annually by the Barilla centre for food and nutrition, is a global platform promoting a dramatic change in mind-sets when it comes to food production.  

Food systems at the heart of climate change

For this latest edition of the Forum, governments, the private sector, research and civil society discussed the global transformations required for our food systems to become sustainable in the face of climate change.

Climate change and food security are intimately entwined: our food systems and diets dependent on climate, but they also act as a major driver of climate change.

Ertharin Cousin, former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, addressed the audience with a message of urgency:

“We need a food system that is good for people and good for the planet, as well as profitable - we have transformed agriculture before, with the green revolution, and we can do this again, together.” 

Changing our collective vision

Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food International, highlighted the importance of ‘leaving no one behind’ in this global shift: "We need to create new consortia and new networks so that the technologies that we are developing will be for the benefit of everyone, including marginalised people, not just the companies that create them."

Galina Peycheva-Miteva, a young Bulgarian farmer, joined Carlo Petrini’s call for social inclusion: “The whole idea of farming has to change. Farming is not considered prestigious or attractive for the younger generation. The average farmer is 59 years of age. We need to change this perception. We need to create a platform to attract agricultural youth”

Leaving no one behind

Mattia Prayer Galletti presented IFAD’s effort to put environmental sustainability and social inclusion at the forefront of rural development.

Mattia highlighted IFAD’s commitment to give indigenous peoples a voice.

“Indigenous Peoples are key in the fight against climate change and in the preservation of the world’s biodiversity; instead of being recognized for their battles for the whole of humanity they are often marginalized and criminalized" said Galletti.

Next to him, two indigenous leaders - Dali Nolasco Cruz and Wolde Gossa Tadesse - shared insights on how they promote and preserve sustainable practices from their indigenous traditional knowledge.

"For the State, the food system is about markets; but for indigenous communities, food is for consumption, for people, for families and for their well-being" said Dr. Tadesse, who is an initiated elder in in his native community of dere Chencha in Ethiopia, and also holds a research position in Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

Dali is a young indigenous woman from Mexico; she is an Advisory Board Member of Indigenous Terra Madre and a representative of the Slow Food Mexico movement.

"We indigenous peoples feel like the Earth is our mother, we feel the responsibility to protect her. This is why we collaborate with organizations like IFAD, so we can act together”, said Dali. “We want to reconnect young people, the leaders of the future, with the love for our own land, with agriculture, with our ancestral seeds.”

Dali addressed the audience on the need to include everyone in finding solutions to mitigate climate change. She summarised the main conclusions of the day’s discussions in a short, incisive call to action.

“The indigenous youth are committed to fighting climate change, but we need your help, we need you to share this responsibility. Think about what you are eating - Think about where it comes from. You can all exert your political power through your fork."

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Mara Sgroi is an intern with the Environment, Climate, Gender and Social Inclusion Division at IFAD and a PhD student from the University of Cambridge.