Few things are more important than how we feed ourselves, and get access to clean water. Without these, our species will not survive, our numbers are increasing rapidly, as the resources of the planet, particularly available water, are being consumed faster than replacement rates.
According to the UN, 6-8 million people die every year due to water related disease or disaster, 2.5 billion do not have access to sanitation, and nearly a billion do not have clean drinking water. I suspect water will be the root cause of much of the international power plays over the next 50 years.
During this last week, there was an international Peri Urban conference in Sydney. Much earnest discussion amongst the disappointingly low number of attendees went on, but there were some lessons that need to be learned beyond the gravity of the emerging crisis on water management:
- For the message to get out beyond those in the room, the facts need to be told as stories to which the public can relate, and engage, creating pressure on decision makers to allocate some priority to the questions raised. Dry academic papers read by Professors with limited story-telling skills, accompanied by PowerPoint slides as comprehensible as the Rosetta stone will not cut the mustard. The presentations I saw reminded of Sir Ken Robinsons classic line that “the only purpose of academic bodies is to get their heads to meetings”.
- Marketing is not just useful, but required. Twitter is now routinely used by conference organisers to get their message out, and there was a handle for the conference, #periurban14, which attracted 1 tweet. Enough said.
- For peri urban agriculture to be a reality, it is required to be economically sustainable, as well as ecologically sustainable. Discussion of the barriers and challenges to economic sustainability would appear to me to be of vial interest to the topic, but beyond some consideration of the evolving organic market, little was said, the vital role of consumer demand largely ignored.
I presented at a workshop breakout session. A short presentation that set out to make the point that whatever happens in the growing part of the agricultural process, you still need a customer to make the whole thing commercially sustainable. There were so few people there that clearly the issue of commercial sustainability being a vital foundation of change has not yet resonated.
Conferences are a vital part of the process of creating and disseminating Intellectual capital. The presentations are just a small part of the mix, the relationships built with other conference attendees, and the opportunity to leverage he messages to wider audiences via social media are the real reasons conferences are worth the time and expense.