GCP co-enquiry group aims to clarify the ‘secret sauce’ of how we can become more effective in shifting food and agriculture systems on to a more sustainable basis.
The Conscious Food Systems Alliance (CoFSA), convened by UNDP, aims to leverage the power of consciousness and inner transformation, including proven approaches such as mindfulness, compassion, somatic transformation, systems leadership, indigenous and feminine wisdoms, to support systemic change towards sustainability and human flourishing in the food and agriculture sector. The Alliance aims to establish and promote consciousness as a key evidence-based practice to support systemic change, including through championing the approach at events such as ‘The Greatest Accelerator for Reaching the SDGs: Human Flourishing’ hosted by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and Inner Development Goals.
Earlier this year, UNDP held a series of workshops to begin co-developing the Alliance and building a movement of practitioners dedicated to this agenda. The outcomes and learnings from this process are detailed in the CoFSA Insights Report.
The CoFSA has recently launched the next phase in ‘The Breathing Room’ - an intentional and transformative space where core partners connect deeply with themselves and one another to co-create and co-implement the Conscious Food Systems Alliance. The Breathing Room brings together a group of 30 core partners; grassroots organizations, international NGOs, companies, representatives of the academia, as well as consciousness and systems change experts, committed for the next six months to develop the vision, strategy, portfolio of activities, partnerships, resourcing, global reporting and advocacy of the Alliance. Alongside this, UNDP is exploring opportunities to pilot the application of consciousness within our portfolio of projects and country offices, starting with the delivery of a six-week compassion training in the UNDP Paraguay country office.
This piece captures the reflections on ‘What is your vision of a Conscious Food System?’ given by four of our partners, speaking at an event held in partnership with Catalyst 2030, a global movement of social entrepreneurs and social innovators dedicated to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The speakers include; Luis Camargo, Founder and Executive Director of Organización para la Educación y Protección Ambiental (OpEPA), a non-profit foundation based in Colombia which seeks to connect people with nature; Teresa Corção, Founder of Instituto Maniva, a non-profit in Brazil which values traditional food knowledge and renews the ties lost between producers, the foods they grow, cooks and consumers; Helmy Abouleish, CEO of SEKEM, a holistic sustainable development community based in the Egyptian desert; and Tashka Yawanawá, chief of the Yawanawá people in Acre, Brazil. These speakers shared their perspectives and wisdom on their visions for a conscious food system, which are valuable inputs into the vision of the Conscious Food Systems Alliance.
“Food is our most intimate connection to earth. It holds the capacity to synchronise in relation to ourselves, to others and to nature, and activate our regenerative capacities.” Luis Camargo, Founder of Organización para la Educación y Protección Ambiental (OpEPA)
A conscious food system is one in which a holistic approach is taken to the wellbeing of people and ecosystems, and where there is a connection and awareness between stakeholders across the whole supply chain, says Helmy Abouleish, founder of SEKEM, a holistic sustainable development community established 40 years ago in the Egyptian desert.
SEKEM began in 1975 with the intention to create a community of people where each person can unfold their potential, based on biodynamic farming and a concept called the ‘Economy of Love,’ Abouleish explains.
The Economy of Love is an alternative to the mainstream, capitalistic system. It is a holistic development approach which values the consciousness development of individual human beings; “it really focuses on human development, and not on profit maximisation, and at the same time, it protects and maintains the ecosystem we're living in,” says Abouleish, “It's about all the materials involved, it's about all the services involved, but most importantly, it's about all the people involved.” The Economy of Love is also about enabling consumers with the information and options to make more conscious decisions. This has led SEKEM to develop a certification standard of sustainable development and transparency and a tool for True Cost accounting which includes economic, social, cultural and ecological measures.
Today, SEKEM has grown into a world-renowned sustainable community with multiple entities including sustainable businesses, organic agriculture, schools, medical care and a university for sustainable development.
Abouleish insists that the ‘miracle of SEKEM’ is possible anywhere; “What we have done can be replicated everywhere in the world, not only in Egypt, but in any other country with the right holistic vision, with the right focus on people, and the right consciousness, support and development. When this all comes together, miracles are possible everywhere.”
Awareness of the people and processes in food and agriculture systems is also at the heart of the approach taken by the Yawanawá people, who have partnered with international cosmetics firm, Aveda, to supply sustainability produced urucum (a local plant that produces a red dye), and are now focused on acai production. Tashka Yawanawá, Chief of the Yawanawá people, explains “when somebody drinks the acai collected and produced by the Yawanawá, they’re helping protect 200,000 acres of land, also they’re supporting the preservation of our language, our culture, our cultural and spiritual manifestation. Making that link gives value to where you source these products from...when you buy acai made by Yawanawá, you have an awareness that you're supporting conscious food.”
“I think today whatever you eat, however you dress, you need to ask yourself where they come from, what kind of impact they are giving back to the Mother Earth, cultural, economic, and spiritual environment.” Tashka Yawanawá, Chief of the Yawanawá
Chefs have an important role to play in this reconnection, highlights Teresa Corção, founder of Instituto Maniva, a non-profit in Brazil which values traditional food knowledge and renews the ties lost between producers, the foods they grow, cooks and consumers. We need to listen more to the voices of producers that are not heard, and chefs can be the connectors between the producers and ‘eaters’, Corção emphasises, a term she prefers instead of ‘consumers’. Her journey has involved leading chefs, waiters and managers working in her restaurant, to the fields to meet the farmers and reconnect with how the food is grown and produced. Alongside academic knowledge and research, grounded experiences are a powerful way to reconnect people to their food, she explains: “joining together, exchanging knowledge, exchanging curiosity, living that moment, at the earth, feeling the smell of everything..remembering the forgotten experience of being on the land.”
“Cooks should have this obligation or role to pass on the voice of the people that make and grow food. For me, making a more conscious food system means to listen more to the people that grow the food.” Teresa Corção, Founder of Instituto Maniva
Luis Camargo, Founder of OpEPA, a non-profit foundation based in Colombia which seeks to connect people with nature, also emphasises the centrality of grounded experience in bringing consciousness to food systems.
He gives the example of tasting honey “if you close your eyes for a second, and just think of the power of honey; as honey touches your tongue it is an incredible experience. But that experience has millions and thousands of organisms, of nutrients, and of processes, that are coming from the soil through a huge amount of collaboration and work to get to our tongue and actually provide us with the pleasure, the energy and everything that comes with it. And unless we become conscious again, in terms of the importance and the value, and the amount of work that was ingrained in that drop of honey, we won't be able to actually start structuring different systems.”
Many of the problems of the world are because we are in misalignment in our relationship with nature and with each other, says Camargo. The process of awareness-building and reconnection can support the transformation of our relationships with each other and nature and to move towards universal wellbeing, he explains, which “is the capacity to synchronise ourselves in relation to ourselves, to others and to nature, and activate our regenerative capacities.”
Bringing consciousness into food systems can support the transition to holistic, bio-regional approach and the creation of productive landscapes of regeneration, Camargo believes. It can help to restore the balance in food systems between food production, conservation, and wellbeing, support the uptake of agro ecological practices which regenerate the soil, and strengthen the capacity of food as a way of distributing wealth and wellbeing in communities, he explains; “being conscious about the food system and using the food system as one of the key players in transformation towards a sustainable, and ideally beyond sustainability into a regenerative future, is going to be critical for us worldwide.”
“A conscious food system nurtures our connection to the land, to each other and to ourselves. It builds on local systems adapted to their bio-cultural environments, based on agroecological and food sovereignty principles, in which producers, value chain actors and consumers are closely connected to each other to optimize the well-being of all” Andrew Bovarnick, Global Head, Green Commodities Programme, United Nations Development Programme
"Shifting dominant cultures is essential to creating a regenerative food system that is conducive to people and planet. We’re grateful to have worked in partnership with UNDP to convene actors working on the group who create seismic cultural shifts through their practice. We’re looking forward to seeing the community grow and continuing to be part of it." Deepa Mirchandani, Collaborations Facilitator, Catalyst2030
The full event can be viewed here.
“We are really starting to speak about what is a conscious food system at the right place, with the right spirit and the right heart.” Helmy Abouleish, CEO of SEKEM