Breaking Boundaries to Avoid a Food System Crisis - part 2

By Guest Author on 06 July 2020

From a different aspect, labor shortages are also driving volatility. With unemployment at historic lows in the U.S., many food producers from farm to retail cannot hire enough labor or may be relying on temporary labor, forcing rapid change in diverse areas from mechanization to training. Overall, volatility and the rapid change in the food system create uncertainty that must be addressed. (Editor’s note – while this is definitely NOT the case in South Africa, increasing pressure on costs is putting more jobs at risk, automation is looking more attractive in many sectors – but what will this do to our society?)

Uncertainty, or lack of predictability, in the food system has multi-factorial causes. For example, nutrition has often been highlighted as an aspect of uncertainty within the food system. As nutrition science advances, conflicting messages have been presented to consumers. The headline messages of “eat this, not that” have overwhelmed the basic nutrition guidance of balance promoted by our scientific and governmental authorities. However, when the “eat this, not that” headlines reverse to “eat that, not this,” consumers grow confused and frustrated. The uncertainty of consumer preferences, along with vacillating guidelines and opinions, leaves the industry struggling with ambiguity and the potential for misreads.

Complexity, or the confusion that surrounds issues, within the food system has many interconnected parts and variables. Many of these inter-relationships are potentially predictable, but the volume of information is often difficult to process. One of the simplest examples in the food system to illustrate complexity is the multi-national producer. With business units worldwide, there is a need to hire and develop appropriate resources to address the various regulations and cultural values in its widespread markets. Or one may consider complexity from a product-launch point of view, where the inter-relationships between consumer desire, product formulation, manufacturing parameters, supply chain and procurement of ingredients, and distribution and sales are often well-understood, complex relationships. However, when the volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity of each of those factors are considered, the complexity of a successful product launch grows exponentially.

Ambiguity, or the mixed meanings of conditions, in the food system results when there is no precedent or when cause-and-effect relationships are unclear. Within the food system, policy frequently is an area that struggles with ambiguity. In many policy areas, it’s expected that national governments and local communities can single-handedly ensure food security. However, this expectation does not address the causal relationships that result in food insecurity or identify solutions to address root causes. In some cases, local and state power to influence food supply production and distribution is limited; local efforts to capture food loss and waste may not align with state policy and regulations. Development of solutions to such issues will require a better understanding of not only the causal relationships but also the complexity of the food system and how it affects those relationships.

To solve the big VUCA challenges in the food system, we need to better educate our workforce into thinking beyond their current roles. We must expand and broaden viewpoints of emerging organizational leaders or those being groomed for succession. We must ensure these future leaders understand the food system from interdependent and collaborative perspectives, including primary production, processing, procurement, sales and marketing, food safety and quality, construction, and more. We need to ensure they have skills to problem-solve, communicate, negotiate, think critically, ask the hard questions, and be willing to propose bold solutions to break down boundaries. And most importantly, we need current leaders who will commit to fostering, supporting, and encouraging the development of these future leaders.

Look out for Part 3...

This article was republished with the permission of Food Safety Magazine and the original Article can be viewed here:

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