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CEE Meeting 2014

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Food (Re)Cycle

The CEE Regional Meeting 2014 was organized in Prague.  It was focused on challenges that encompass the food cycle, from production, through supply chain, logistics, to consumption and finally - waste management.

The meeting started on Wednesday, 10th of September, in the afternoon. Among twenty international students there were also two oikos Warsaw members: Karolina Symonides and Hubert Pyliński (simultaneously representing oikos International as the Executive Board member).

During the official opening ceremony in the new building of the University of Economics in Prague (VSE) the welcome speeches were held. Lenka Parkanova, President of oikos International emphasized how excited she was about the second international event organized by oikos Prague, her “home chapter”. In her speech she also introduced the topic of the conference - food production and food consumption – as well as its importance: food simply impacts our everyday life. Marie Hornecka, president of oikos Prague and the chief organizer of the meeting, wondered how the economy would look like if people didn’t need to eat since, in her opinion, food production was the main purpose of human activity.

After the official opening the first session devoted to palm oil started. Thanks to a short documentary, “Green Desert”, participants learned about the negative aspects of palm oil production. The oil is widely used in food, cosmetics and bio-fuels production, yet many companies use its different names to mask the business. The world’s biggest producers of palm oil are Malaysia and Indonesia. In both of these countries oil palm plantations are expanding very fast. The palms, which originally stem from Africa, are replacing the mangrove and rain forests being home for many endemic species such as the Bornean Orangutan. If the deforestation continues at the current speed, 98% of Borneo’s forests will have disappeared by the year 2020. Another interesting fact is that profits from producing palm oil can be made only within a limited timeframe. The lifetime of a palm is about 30 years and after that period the soil becomes exhausted and useless for further planting. The revenues from oil production do not cover the losses from lower food production. Palms require a lot of water – 15 liter per tree per day - and because of the fact, water resources are becoming very poor. Moreover, toxic fertilizers used at oil palm plantations pollute water making it impossible for local people to drink and fish. The documentary was followed with further presentations and a discussion with experts. oikees discussed possible solutions to the palm oil problem: not using the oil when not necessary, using organic not chemical fertilizers, making oil palm plantations smaller and less destructive as well as supporting local communities.

The day finished with a dinner at the restaurant Country Life and a Czech beer at the pub Jama.

On Thursday we started our day with a lecture presented by Karel Vitek. He explained to us how the European Union supports sustainability in agriculture. He highlighted the importance of CAP (the agricultural policy of the European Union) along with its current state and progress. He also emphasized that organic farming is not necessarily sustainable agriculture which appears to be a common mistake nowadays.

The lecture was followed by a brainstorming session. We were divided into 4 groups and tried to respond to the question on how we can support sustainable agriculture from the perspective of a consumer, an entrepreneur, the government or an NGO. We all concluded that all the parties have to work together to make a proper impact. We understood that the food cycle was quite complex and all its components - such as production or promotion - worked together in symbiosis since one could not live without the other. We also agreed that competitiveness of a company and the well-being of the local community are mutually dependent, thus the parties must share values.

Our workshop was followed by an interactive session with Jaroslav Pasmik, the senior project manager of the Czech Green Building Council. He enlighten us on the principles of sustainable buildings, soil management and consumption. At the end of the session we all took a test to calculate our ecological footprint. It valued different areas of our lives, such as global carbon emission, food consumption, housing, goods and services. All the people in the auditorium scored at least a total of “3 planets”, which indicates actually how many planet Earths it would take to support humanity if everybody followed their current lifestyle. It was a perfect eye-opener: we understood how we could change to live more sustainably, healthier and happier.

We continued the afternoon with 4 presentations from different chapters. oikos Bayreuth showed us their urban gardening project, whose output was a mobile garden in a container from recycled materials (such as used milk bags, packing cases from bakeries). oikos Konstanz also developed a project on urban gardening. After they arranged a green area at their university campus,  each student can now rent a little piece of land for a semester and harvest it. You can even get fined for not looking after your terrain. oikos Bratislava presented a “Incredible Edible” project. It was a part of a global grassroots movement empowering citizens to build sustainable cities by urban farming and sharing free food. The movement aimed to create a new art of living, revitalizing the local exchanges by cultivating and sharing fruits and vegetables in the cities. The food was free for everyone who simply walks around. Last but not least, oikos Pune told us about 16 tons of flowers that were dumped every day and often end up in local rivers. This led to the reduction of oxygen level in water, resulted in siltation and damaged local fauna and flora. That was how oikos Pune’s “i-GREEN” project came up with a win-win solution. The i-GREEN vermi-composting project took the input (disposed flowers offered in the temples which pollute the nearby rivers) and delivered the output (nutritious vermicompost) which was used to pamper the plants growth. The whole process started by collecting the flowers which had dried out at different temples. Flowers were sorted out and manure was mixed. Later, earthworms were induced into this mixture and they started consuming the flowers. After several days when the process was finished, the outcome was a nutritious compost, which could be used instead of chemical fertilizers. The aim of all these projects was to raise consciousness about possibilities of gardening in urban environments and as well to show us how we can make an impact on a much larger scale than we initially thought we could. Starting from a little community, we can actually affect our friends, our university or even our city.

After the inspiring presentations we attended our last session of the day. Aurele Destree discussed the global problems concerning food, world hunger and climate change. The paradox summing up the first matter was that the hungry people were mostly farmers themselves. It was quite shocking to learn that 40% of undernourished people worked in agriculture. Concerning the other topic, we learnt that the food production (which affects global warming) also had a terrible effect on the food itself, which is a terrible cycle. Another thing that was really interesting was to find out that as humans we missed out in diversification of food. We only used about 30 types of crops, whereas there were 30000 types of edible food. It just showed us that if we wanted to be smart consumers, we had to start questioning ourselves and try to be more conscious about the choices we make. We should not only be more sustainable, but also start having respect for human rights.
Our hard day of learning was ended with a vegan dinner in Love Kido. A lovely, charming place, far from the center of the capital. We followed our meal by screening some videos about food waste and dumpster diving.

Friday was the last official day of the conference, focused on the food consumption. The first presentation was held by Christine Chemnitz from Heinrich Böll Foundation. During her speech she presented the insights from  “Meat Atlas” – an annual report issued by Heinrich Böll Foundation that describes the impacts of industrial meat production (download here). Due to rapidly growing demand for meat in emerging countries like China, world’s meat production is increasing, which leads to changes in production processes. For example, rising prices of soy used for feeding animals caused changes in Argentina’s agriculture. In the past cows would walk freely on a huge area, now they live in boxes and the land formerly used as a pasture now serves as soy plantation. Another paradox was that in the EU it was forbidden to use GM crops, but we accepted products from GM soy e.g. milk or meat from animals fed with GM soy. After landscaping the problem, the speaker also provided us with some ideas that could serve as alternatives to current situation. One of them was an agriculture policy that should take organic production as a blueprint (no GMO’s, less antibiotics, smaller flocks). Another alternative was a change in diet: people should eat less and better meat, ideally no meat at all.  The change in diet would require labeling, so the industry might oppose this solution.

Fabrice Martin-Plichta from Potravinova Banka – the Czech Food Bank, who was the next speaker, was talking about activity of the institution he works for. In general, food banks distribute food to people in need. Distributed food comes from three different sources: manufactures that have some food left in their warehouses, retailers that have some unsold food and customers that donate some food in the groceries or supermarkets. What is important is the fact that the food distributed is always before the expiry date. The scale of food banks activity is impressing – in 2013 food banks in Europe distributed 402 000 tons of food, which is equal to 804 million meals.

During next presentation, which was held via skype by a real dumpster diver from Vienna, Laura Hubert-Eustachi, oikees learnt what were the major difficulties in collecting some waste food in Austrian capital. According to Austrian legislation, dumpster diving is illegal, because divers trespass someone’s property. Also in many supermarkets the waste rooms are closed or under the CCTV–monitoring, which makes diving harder. Viennese dumpster divers had several rules: be clean, be quiet and do not take too much food. As Laura explained, she felt happy and sad at the same time when finding some food in containers: on one hand her activity was successful, but on the other hand, she saw a huge problem in the society, which is wasting a lot of food.

The last speaker before the lunch break was Pratik Chandwani from oikos Pune, who was talking about the food consumption in India. Due to social, economical, historical, cultural and religious differences Indian people had a completely different approach to food and food leftovers. Moreover, India had the largest vegetarian population in the world.

Straight after the meal participants met with the representative of Tesco in Czech Republic who was talking about the solutions undertaken by the company to reduce the amount of wasted food. Due to the short products’ lifetime, most wasted products were fresh food and bakery. The way to solve this problem was straight/direct sourcing e.g. the lifetime of bananas supplied directly by the producer was 6 days longer than the lifetime of bananas sourced indirectly. All the retailers increased their efforts in ordering and forecasting, which allowed them to meet the demand more efficiently and therefore to reduce the amount of unsold food.  After having some insights from the industry, participants were divided into 3 groups that were brainstorming on possible solutions on how to reduce the waste food.

After the workshop with Tesco, all participants got a chance to check their knowledge about oikos in a quiz prepared by Lenka Parkanova and Anita Negri – recently elected oikos President who will start her work in November. Participants were answering questions in 4 groups. They could test their knowledge about the history of the organization, its programs, governance and current developments.

The final point of the day was a farewell dinner in LoVeg, a lovely vegan restaurant close to the Prague’s Castle, where the participants once again experienced that vegan food could be super tasty. After a short official ceremony and thanking all the people involved in the preparations of the event, oikees could enjoy their meals, which partly soothed the sadness connected with the end of the great event.

After the official closure of the CEE meeting, on Saturday, we participated in a guided tour around Prague. The amazing thing about this tour was that our guide, Pietr, was actually homeless. He took us around places which were important for him, far from the castle or Charles Bridge. We saw homeless settlements, squats, the place where he used to hang out with his buddies, the railway station where he used to sell newspapers, the seat in their own theatre group they had etc. What was really moving was his story and the way he was talking about it. As a very open person he replied to all of our questions and he told us anecdotes about tribes within the homeless community as well as his thoughts about the government. It was touching to see a man who had been through so much, but neither lost his hope, nor his smile.

We finished the Prague journey with a special Indian dinner made by oikos Pune. They had been cooking for several hours in the kitchen of Love Kido and prepared amazing dishes, which made us not want to leave the table at all. After all the feed, the chats and the laughs we finally had to say goodbye, but hopefully we will all meet again in St Gallen, for the Future Lab.

Hubert Pyliński, Karolina Symonides