Bernelle Verster

Merah Mas Industrial Biotech, University of Cape Town, Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research - CeBER


This conversation is closed.

How do we best integrate food security, cities & urban design, and water management to create something beyond sustainable?

This year the UN World Water Day, 22 March 2012, considers the link between Water and Food Security. You would agree that we can’t really consider this link without simultaneously considering energy, and how cities function, and then how all of this is affected by climate change etc …, one needs to consider all these aspects together. A deeper systems approach and institutional collaboration and communication is needed.

The Young Water Professionals (YWP) and friends are hosting a conversation around the systems approach of how food and water interact at the University of Cape Town, South Africa on 29 March 2012.

This is a complex matter for academics to discuss, and yet, the key to progress is to communicate these interlinking issues to the public in a way that empowers civic groups to see the bigger picture and take informed action (or plainly, inspires). It is in this context that we are hosting a conversation around water and food security. Water ties us all together. This TED conversation explores the conversation further, and we are partnering with TEDxCapeTown to potentially take thoughts arising from this conversation further as a multi-year action & outcome based social campaign, in the run up to Cape Town being World Design Capital in 2014.

The conversation will kick off with Carolyn Steel's TED talk 'How food shapes our cities' to place the conversation into context, and will take place with specific context to Cape Town.

The conversation in Cape Town will include several academics - Jane Battersby, Tania Katzschner - practitioners - Shannon Royden-Turner, as well as science journalist Leonie Joubert who is currently publishing a book on this topic.

Closing Statement from Bernelle Verster

While some of the comments here were hard to swallow at first, looking back at it, it was very informative. We're working on it. The main conversation that this was built around can be found here:

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    Apr 5 2012: The full write up of this event can be found at the link below.
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    Apr 4 2012: Well, what the YWP's do as a group is work on the need that professionals are poorly supported to do their job. We tackle this through the following:
    · Provide opportunities for YWPs to meet and communicate
    · Provide career development opportunities for YWPs
    · Support employers with the recruitment and retention of YWPs
    · Ensure the Programme remains relevant to YWP

    What I increasingly realised is that we don't engage with the greater public about what the people in the water industry itself is doing to provide e.g. clean water as part of their actual jobs (and yes, this is in the context of (rural) South Africa, which has similar but also different challenges that the rest of the African continent) - hence my main and original reason for getting involved in TEDx.

    We, as working professionals, also work with NGO's, but what we often find that the communication with NGO's are poor, we often undo each other's work (e.g. NGO's installing their own pumps rather than work with improving the maintenance of the already existing ones, improving the local system). So if you were looking for projects where we ' provide clean water' I can only direct you to our technical internal sites, coz that's what we do - The YWP site is here, by the way, I know there is an inactive one on the web too -

    My frustration, that I share with you, is that there is a fantastic amount of great stuff out there, and the researchers and practical people in the field don't have the time or skills or will (we're not meant to be PR people) to get this out into the world in a way that makes sense to people who are not experts in this field. How do we best engage with the world? I don't think a website is the best way - even more so in Africa where internet just is not well developed. TEDxtalks?
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    Apr 2 2012: Absolutely. But action that fits in the big picture, and not just a feel good project that pleases the funders (Aka no AId.). I get what you're saying about YWP & poor website content. This is a big reason I started with TEDx. One huge thing we got from this conversation was to create a common language between researchers and decisionmakers. Not dodge the complexity to get a simple 'clean and affordable drinking water' that looks good on a website, but engage with the complexity to see how all the links fit together. Developing this common language involves lots of science journalists who are trained to talk a common language, with a good working relationship with the researchers (and not swing an angle to be sensationalist), and this will also result in better website information. Whereas we can easily blame the YWP websites for getting too caught up in the challenges and not having any projects or solutions to show (or not showcasing the projects they are involved in), we can as easily blame the Aid industry, like the carbon credit industry to oversimplify and so contribute to the problem ( Anyways, watch this space, we're trying to find a better way.
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    Apr 2 2012: if you want a problem to be postponed, overcomplicated and thrown loads of money into, assign a committee to solve it. let it be the UN, the YWP (what a name) or whatever, one can not expect much results.

    the thing is that people themselves are more than capable of solving such problems as food and water supply and quality. freely cooperating individuals and the emergent community behavior is elegant, cheap, efficient and reflects to the ever changing local preferences and conditions.

    the last thing we need is a committee discussing a "solution" and then start to implement it using stolen money.
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      Apr 2 2012: Hi Krisztian, I agree completely, the YWP is a voluntary group of Young Water Professionals, people working in the water industry and under 35 years of age, and we work with our fellow colleagues and clients and friends and what not towards solutions. Most times we have no money either. So it's exactly a case of 'freely cooperating individuals and the emergent community behavior' as you said. anyways, we're busy loading up what the YWP's said in this informal conversation.
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        Apr 2 2012: then i have a recommendation for you: cut the bu.. and start to talk about solutions.

        let me tell you what i have problems with. let us google "young water professionals" to find that the top hit is IWP home page. go there, and see that there is absolutely no menu item saying "what we do". the closest might be the "themes", so have a look at that. it starts with this beast of a sentence:

        "The work and activities of our members, whether through established mechanisms like specialist groups, task groups, conferences or print, are complimented by a range of activities divided into strategic themes and programmes."

        go on, and find something more meaty. we have the Cities of the Future section, and inside it, some links that look like actual material. water energy framework, lemme see. here is the first sentence of the summary:

        Water, ecological, carbon/energy and economical footprints are linked to and are expressions
        of the urban metabolism which can be linear or cyclic. Linear urban water and energy
        management exert high demand on resources and inputs (water, energy, food, chemicals, and
        materials) which is not sustainable."


        maybe we need to have a look at the YWP website instead, which can be found under the name of southern african young water professionals. the homepage consists of, well, nothing. no projects, no proposals, no solutions, no results.

        in comparison, let us open the website of acumen fund. the first menu item is "about us". in it, we find a general description of what they do. we can learn what the goal is, what the method is. and on the top, we have "investments". which leads to a map of many many locations with actual, carried out, working projects. for example like this

        "Pharmagen Healthcare Limited supplies safe, clean and affordable drinking water to low-income residents of Lahore"

        that is content. that is action. that is what we need.
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          Apr 2 2012: Wow, I subscribe to all you have said here Krisztian using both my hands and feet. I also appreciate you were patient enough to browse all these websites and, you know, read them. Great job!
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    Apr 2 2012: A key idea out of the entire session to assist all the complex issues raised is: "how do we make food more visible in the city?"

    This encourages people from diverse backgrounds to think and engage with food complexities within culture, geographies and the, in Cape Town, how does one make food more visible?

    Metaphorically? Practically?

    Effectively, if the complexity is recognised, understood and ultimately(?) managed then we could be on a better path...