Pat Mooney’s Long Food Movement teaches us how to transform food systems

News 25.04.2023

Right Livelihood Laureate Pat Mooney, an expert on agricultural diversity, biotechnology and global governance, was one of the lead authors of the “Long Food Movement Report” published in 2021. In the report, he advocates for closer collaboration and better planning to make sure we can feed the planet by transforming financial flows, governance structures and food systems from the ground up.

Mooney received the Right Livelihood Award in 1985 for his work on saving the world’s genetic plant heritage. At the time, “most people didn’t even know what [a plant heritage and plant genetic resources] was,” he told us last year during a visit to Sweden to attend the Stockholm+50 conference. “It was a whole new topic for them,” he explained. “They hadn’t thought about the world that way.”

Now, over 30 years later, “the world has expanded,” Mooney said, and so has his work.

The global commitment to eliminate hunger by 2030 took a hit with the COVID-19 pandemic during which hunger increased globally. With the climate changing and the world’s population growing, it is estimated that agricultural outputs will need to expand by around 70 per cent by 2050. In light of this, Mooney has turned his focus to the future of food systems.

His most recent involvement has been working on a report about the so-called “Long Food Movement”. When asking him about the name, he said that it was “a really bad pun”. It comes from the idea of a slow food movement coupled with the need to plan ahead. 

In society, he explained, we tend to make plans two years in advance, five years at best. By thinking short-term like this, it is not possible to move ahead successfully. 

“[We] need to be thinking a generation ahead at least,” Mooney said, to be able to transform financial flows, governance structures and food systems from the ground up.

He said he believes that society has the capacity to do this transformation of thinking and planning more long term. When his family wonders how he can keep being so hopeful, he says that he cannot help himself and that he has “got the optimism gene or something […] I see so much good in people.”  

“Food is the basis that we all depend upon: We all want to eat,” he said. “We can strategise around the need for food and the community that food creates to really have a common plan together of where we need to go. And if we have that plan in our mind, we will take advantage of the opportunities when they arise to advance.” 

Beyond “business as usual” 

Mooney explained that the key learnings to develop the food movement come from looking at how food systems are organised today and figuring out how they need to change. 

“[I]f we proceed as we are in civil society, fighting food issues, worrying about world hunger, and food sovereignty as we are, we will not succeed,” he said. “We can’t get there doing things as we’re doing them today.”

The Long Food Movement report presents two scenarios going forward. In the first, everything stays as it is: power relations remain unchanged, “multi-stakeholderism” and high technology input in food systems continue until the year of 2045. In the second, civil society moves ahead in an unusual way and chooses to seize the Long Food Movement, “developing deeper, wider, and more effective collaborations than ever before.”

In both scenarios, environmental breakdown and food security threats will be a reality. In the second one, however, society will be much more prepared and better adapted to what may come. Its success will, in large part, depend on cross-level collaborations.

“I have spent most of my life working at the global level,” Mooney said. “Working towards governments, but outside governments.” 

“Societies lead governments, governments don’t lead society,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that governments don’t have an important role. They have an absolutely vital role to play here. We’ve got to make them do it.”

This is why cooperations across levels and sectors are important. Mooney explained that strategies for a Long Food Movement must ensure that they do not focus, or rely, too much on large corporations. Rather, they should connect to small farmers and local markets to strengthen them, and look into the possibility of shorter food chains.

“[We can,] if we plan far enough ahead, go from a place where we can’t succeed to where we could actually imagine a world 25 years down the road,” Mooney said. “We’ll never have it perfect, but in a much better place than today, where we don’t need to have worldwide hunger as we have today. We don’t need to have malnutrition as we have it today. And we don’t need to be destroying our planet to grow our food.”

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