Water wars, food fights beg for our best selves to lead

So. Another World Food Day, October 16, has come and gone. We all know that the human race can destroy itself many times over, just as we know we could end dought and hunger but for the collective will. But our species — I refer to homo sapiens assuming no dolphins will read this — can’t seem to curb its expensive addiction to conflict, starting with wars over water.

That addiction has raged for 5,000 years and continues around the world according to this timeline from Pacific Institute.

The desire to cooperate over water rights and distribution, locally as well a globally, ought to transcend apathy or even politics. Lest you think this is a “bleeding-heart liberal” issue, consider this observation from a conservative:

Dystopian novels and movies predict a future in which people fight it out for every last drop of water to quench the thirst of expanding cities, parched agriculture, and wasteful suburban grass lawns. But the future is already here. Urban growth in desert cities has ramped up the demand for water while increasing temperatures brought on by climate change have decreased the supply.”

— Max Holleran, “The Water Wars Are Here,” New Republic, Sept. 13, 2019
Photo: RedCharlie

Pope: ‘Third World War over water’ underway

Beyond the U.S., global water pressures are dire. In 2014, I attended a presentation by Nausheen Kaul, then-partner with A.T. Kearney, an advisor to some of the world’s top corporations and governments. Kaul, speaking to an audience of business leaders largely engaged with global food brand marketing, touched on the macroeconomics, geopolitics, and shifting demographics leading to the Great water-and-land buy-up.

During the Q&A session, a logistics-company CEO asked, “Did you ever think about water as a weapon?”

Kaul for his part cited of a “global resource nexus” in which the interplay between the supply and demand of food, energy and water will be lead to “troubling” developments. Such as: By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be “hyper-urbanized” into cities, governments will buckle under the pressure to accommodate aging populations and technology developments will make or break efforts to feed more people, sustainably and with fewer resources.

Another global consultant, McKinsey & Co., noted that less than one percent of the planet’s water can support human and ecological processes (the rest is salt and glacier), leading to the proclamation: “Water is as important to the world’s economy as oil or data.”

And yet what advice can these firms give government and multinationals and the new breed of private-sector water barons but to gobble-up as much access and control of water and arable land resources as they can? And they do.

Now, Big Water holds all the cards at the world’s high-stakes tables. Amid fraying multilateralism, there’s no effective referee to enforce fairness. Even well-funded NGOs are increasingly under attack by those in control.

It’s easy to lose one’s religion on the matter of progress.

In 2017, Pope Francis characterized water as a human right and said we’re already in the midst of a “Third World War over water happening in pieces.” (See video). Since then, the UN has predicted 300 global hotspots for water conflicts by 2025; and sources including the Journal Nature have concluded that world’s preoccupation with economic growth in the modern era has led to unchecked consequences on resources and contributed to water scarcity.

Just how prevalent is water conflict today? Mapping and geo-analytics firm ESRI provides an interactive view of  Water, Droughts, and Armed Conflicts in near-realtime:

Tracking water conflicts is big business. (ESRI)

Shortlist: water conflict headlines

Domestic U.S. International
‘Not just Martin County.’ Eastern KY community hosts UN World Water Day to push for change. (Lexington Herald-Leader, October 2020)The Water War on the U.S.-Mexico Border Has Just Begun (Foreign Policy, October 2020)
Unsafe to drink: Wildfires threaten rural towns with tainted water (CalMatters, October 2020)Water is China’s Greatest Weapon and its Achilles Heel (Harvard Political Review, October 2020)
Speculators Buying Up Colorado Water Rights? (Pagosa Daily Post, September 2020)World War 3: South America becomes ‘battleground for new Cold War’ with China and Russia (Daily Express, October 2020)
Critics vow to continue efforts to remove Snake River dams in Washington (Oregon Public Broadcasting, October 2020)‘This is a war’: Cross-Border Fight Over Water Erupts in Mexico (New York Times, October 2020)
Water Wars at the Supreme Court: ‘It’s Only Going to Get Worse’ (Bloomberg Law, September 2020)The Ethiopian-Egyptian Water War Has Begun (Foreign Policy, September 2020)
just a few of related headlines from recent weeks.

Water conflicts cascade to food

Since the aforementioned meeting I covered, progress on the U.N.’s Zero Hunger Challenge has been increasingly grim. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World in 2020: The number of undernourished people in the world continued to increase last year:

Here are additional takeaways from the the FAO report:

  • “The number of people affected by hunger globally has been slowly on the rise since 2014.”
  • “Nearly 690 million people are hungry, or 8.9 percent of the world population – up by 10 million people in one year and by nearly 60 million in five years.”
  • “If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030, or 9.8 percent of the population….even without taking into account the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” which is expected to worsen the overall situation.
Photo: Isaiah Rustad

Global compassion, local effort?

Does civility have a chance against the present rise in nationalism and fraying multilateralism (NATO, ICMBs, Paris Climate Agreement, Iran, North Korea, China, NAFTA, Brexit)? It’s difficult to tell if we’re on the brink of another World War, or if the leaders of countries will ever change, human nature being somewhat slow to evolve.

The silver lining is that even controversial and allegedly corrupt leaders can forget to “cleanse” competence from their ranks. Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is one example. (I chose him because he’s neither a Western Trump nor a North Korean Un. But any given day, he’s known as an election fraudster, terrorist sponsor, incongruously both a NATO member and Russian military client, and partner in a criminal bromance with one Donald Trump.

Beneath all the chaos at the top, Mehmet Emin Birpinar, Turkey’s Deputy Minister of Environment and Urbanization, seems to speak to the best in all of us in an October 16 op-ed in which he said:

This is the world we live in: a world overwhelmed by obesity on the one hand, and by hunger and misery on the other. It is said that 1 out of every 3 food dishes is wasted in a world where three children starve to death every minute. Wasted food can feed the starving population four times over. We all have tasks to make a change. We can start by avoiding waste. Our main goal is zero waste and zero hunger.

—Mehmet Emin Birpinar, Oct. 16, 2020.

That’s a great starting point for understanding basic distinctions between terms including food losses (in production, storage, and processing, most typically in low-income countries) and food waste (through excessive un-conscious distribution, marketing, and consumption mainly in rich countries).

Public and private efforts are underway that span water and food issues. For instance, companies individually and collectively through the food industry’s FMI association. Members from Cargill to Coca-Cola to Kroger and Walmart support a full spectrum approach to clean water, zero hunger, food waste and more. (Just search “hunger” at the food industry’s FMI association website to learn about them.)  

Again, though, all efforts from corporate pressure to political will begin and end locally at the individual level. In my backyard, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is a good choice I’m checking into, albeit belatedly. They’re affiliated with Feeding America, which ought to have resources.

Good luck, human race.

Retail analytics: Here’s lookin’ at you, kids

I recently reunited with FoodOnline.com to write a story on Big Data analytics in the retail food supply chain. The first bylines I had for that site were in 1999, when I was Editorial Director for that related sites — before the big bursting of the Internet Bubble. Accenture’s Stages of Analytic Capabilities

When the Internet was new, there were no iPods, let alone iOS, Android or Bluetooth-powered beacons; Big Data was just a gleam in its young Business Intelligence mother’s eye. And retailers had no idea what to really do with their Business Intelligence systems. Those who finally do, today, see BI as old news as analytics — predictive and now prescriptive — come into their own, powered by Big Data and cloud computing.

Today, as an exec from SAS told me, a shopper who stands in front of a Nescafé display for more than 10 seconds might just get a virtual tap on the shoulder, or rather a bzzzz in the pocket, with a coupon to get that package of coffee off the shelf and in to the cart.

My favorite interview in this story just might have been Nick Hodson, former head of strategy at Safeway Stores and current leader of the North American consumer and retail business practice of Strategy& PwC, who reminded me that the technology isn’t at all the point of progress so much as creative minds who come-up with new things to do with it. Yes, major retail marketers from Walmart and Nestlé may well fave a backlash over privacy concerns if opt-in/out issues aren’t handled correctly, but these times sure are interesting. Read all about it in my story, ” Predictive Analytics Helping CPGs Reach Individual Consumers.”

Toward a legal, national market for cannabis

The story’s out in Pharmaceutical Commerce magazine: “Medical marijuana looks for a place in conventional drug distribution.” It’s based on all kinds of research and interviews with CEOs, legislators and prognosticators in this budding industry.

Frustrations are great as the right hand of the U.S. federal government (DEA) either doesn’t know — or care, or approve — of the actions, research and recommendations of its own left hand (NIH among others). Also, it’s interesting that some of the same Big Pharma industry players that fund crackdowns on marijuana-related crimes (according to current laws) may well be seeking ways to cash-in on the eventuality of legal cannabis commerce. Currently, money crossing state lines can lead to issues with money laundering, since the lowly weed is still an illegal Schedule 1 substance.

A tenuous relationship exists between Big pharma, the supplement market and dispensaries with regard to cannabis’ legality. (Photo: Cannabis Science)

Changes are coming from a few corners of the medical cannabis world — as my investigations, only some of which are published, attest. Eventually at the state and federal levels, the day will come when cannabis is as broadly accepted, profitable and legal as any FDA-approved supplement, OTC drug or prescription remedy.  Ongoing research, advocacy and public support make it seem inevitable if not imminent.

The story linked here includes interviews surrounding pharmaceutical business-related developments. But the medicinal/health benefits-related aspect of this plant don’t end with conventional drug development, owing much to proponents of the whole-plant entourage effect. There’s more to the story than this relatively 101-level view written for mainstream, non-cannabis-versed executives.

A DYI ‘shroom farm? A fish-tank herb garden?

“That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” the Whole Foods buyer told Nikhil Arora, who opened a big & stanky bag-o-fungus in the buyer’s office. To the young innovator, that bagful was the crown jewel of a new product he’d liken to a “next iPhone” for natural products fans.

He was kinda right, as you’ll find out if you read the story — “Home mushroom farming, fish-gardening and other supply chain collaboration challenges,” — that I wrote when I saw Nikhil in my travels on the packaging beat. Over the next few years he found the right suphttps://www.packworld.com/article/contract-packaging/contract-packaging-news-trends/home-mushroom-farming-fish-gardening-andliers for his DIY mushroom kits and then a cool aquaponic fishtank-meets-herb-garden kit.

New product to bow end-February 2015.

New product to bow end-February 2015.

Now he Alejandro Velez, co-founders of Back to the Roots, are at it again; they’ll unveil a new product on February 26th.

What’s it gonna be? I don’t know, but I couldn’t be happier to see these folks start so small and gain national distribution so quickly with such simple, honest ideas.

Rock on, guys.

Industry compliance to FDA Food Safety Modernization Act flying high

How's the FDA's new food safety rule affecting how food gets packaged?

How’s the FDA’s new food safety rule affecting how food gets packaged?

One of the hats I’ve worn of late is that of Editor of Packaging World‘s 2014 Food Safety Playbook for 2014 (as well as the preceding, inaugural edition).

Among the updates packed into the 101-page e-book were the results of a brief survey of U.S. food and beverage product packagers done in Q1, gauging industry readiness for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) now being implemented in rolling deadlines.

The results were optimistic; a large and in some aspects overwhelming majority reported that they have already completed the law’s key requirements into their food safety plans, or will in the coming year.

Since this blog is open to all who click, I’ll say that there’s a LOT to the law, the industry’s reaction, overall compliance and issues that’d have lay-people wondering: “What does it all mean?”

In general, I think the law’s a good thing. If you want to discuss in depth, I’ll invite you to read the whole playbook, or be smart enough not to have to — in which case I’ll refer you to someone with first-hand knowledge of the law, and of food safety. I was once certified to be a food safety guy in the dairy industry, but really, was no expert. Ever.

Want more on the survey results and implications? Read my article, “FSMA compliance soars for those who meet existing standards.”

Be forewarned; I don’t divulge all of the results in this story, but there is a link to the full playbook at that link. If you’re in the industry, I hope you won’t mind having to register to get the playbook for free.

War over water? Consumer brands brace for impact

War over water? If we can have wars over oil, why not water, farmland and other resources that drive economic development? It could happen, according to Nausheen Kaul, principal with A.T. Kearney, advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations.

Worsening inequality and aging populations contribute to global destabilization.

But it struck me how, based on the data they get from firms such as Kearney, how global organizations react: They’ve already begun moving to acquire or otherwise secure the world’s water supplies and prime agricultural real estate, Kaul said.

That was just one nugget from Kaul’s presentation on global economic trends. (My straight-news version of it’s here.) His main goal was insight-shedding, not fear-mongering.

What are the implications of this war-over-water business, beyond pure monetary gain?

There are a few ways to look at it. One is that that massive land-and-water grabs by Western firms will stabilize developing economies. Another perspective is that this activity will amount to economic colonization and will fuel the conflict as surely as the British political colonization did…and will ultimately fail. A third perspective is that conflict is inevitable, and given the regulatory climate, Big Money in the West must do what it does because regulations allow it and shareholders demand it; if Coke doesn’t gobble-up the world’s water and land, Pepsi will.

As global financial leaders invest, governments will continue to buckle under the pressure of aging populations and worsening inequality.

Natural resource and political instability, Kaul said, is already causing a “Global Resource Nexus” in which the interplay between the supply and demand of food, energy and water are driving some troubling developments. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be “hyper-urbanized” into cities, governments will buckle under the pressure to accommodate aging populations and technology developments will make or break efforts to feed more people, sustainably and with fewer resources.

Kaul presented solutions for how companies can prepare, but they’re all about benefits to business. Is what’s good for business always good for mankind?

I’d like to know, but don’t comment here; drop me a line.