Which current trends and developments shape the global food and agricultural system?

Last week, the EnviroSustain team set out to discover the answer at the International Green Week in Berlin. The world’s biggest trade fair for food and agriculture is the traditional yearly venue for food producers and farmers to present their products and technologies. This year, the fair focused on sustainability: political actors, environmental associations and non-governmental organisations were also present, sharing their visions and contributions for sustainability and climate protection in the food and agricultural system.

Read all about the informative and culinary discoveries our team made during their stay at the Green Week 2020:

“My personal highlights at Green Week were:

Kokojoo – Too good to waste and simply delicious: Normally, cocoa bean shells are disposed of as a residual product during chocolate production. However, they are not only tasty, but also rich in nutrients. In West Africa and Germany, the shells are now used to produce a refreshing drink called Kokojoo (the company was voted Food Start-Up of the Year 2019 at ANUGA 2019 in Cologne), which is a healthy alternative to conventional lemonade, as this drink is vegan and low in sugar, available either with or without caffeine. It is sustainable not only because the cocoa fruit is used holistically, but also because the drink is produced under fair conditions.

Wurms Seife – Colourful natural soap from Bavaria: The company Wurm from Saulgrub in Bavaria produces natural soaps free of palm oil, preservatives and softeners, in a wide variety of colours and fragrances. Washing your hands turns into a fun activity, especially as residual glycerine and excess lubrication from soap glue not only clean your hands but also keep them moisturised. The soaps are produced at a low temperature (40 °C) to preserve the essential oils. In addition, the soaps are produced with solar energy. The company is also a member of the FairCommerce initiative.

Brotformen – Baking bread made easy: At the fair, master carpenter Timo Pfütze from Grimma in Saxony offered a wide array of fermentation baskets made of wicker. Wicker is a natural product made from sustainably grown rattan. According to Mr Pfütze, this material is “unbeatable as fermentation ‘technology’”, because it regulates the air supply and adjusts moisture during the fermentation process. After letting the dough prove in the basket in a warm place and later placing it in the oven without the basket, the result is not just a delicious, but also beautiful bread.

Novocarbo – Towards a sustainable future with biochar: Through a pyrolysis process, one of many forms of renewable energy use, biochar is produced from regional, renewable raw materials or from green waste. Its use serves a wide range of sectors: As a soil conditioner, biochar leads to a higher water storage capacity and less nutrient loss, resulting in higher yields. As a CO2-negative material, it supports the implementation of the European LULUCF regulation. Biochar also supports animal welfare, when used as an additive in animal feed or as stable bedding. Further, it is used for process optimisation in biogas plants, while also valued as activated carbon for filtration in the medical and chemical sectors. This kind of circular use is exactly what we need in our fight against the climate crisis.”

“At Green Week, I spent considerable time in the exhibition hall organised by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). Plenty of information was offered on a range of nature topics, which was communicated to children in age-appropriate formats and games, and also proved useful for adults interested in nature and identifying plants and animals. There was an interesting quiz that encouraged visitors to explore certain themes in more depth. For instance, I learned that German forests produce up to 38 million tonnes of oxygen per year, and compensate as much as 7% of Germany’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

At the Misereor booth, I learned about the “Supply Chain Law” initiative. This is an alliance of several organisations advocating for the implementation of a law that bans forced and child labour in supply chains, as is already implemented in other European countries (e.g. transparency in supply chains provision as part of the Modern Slavery Act in UK). Companies should take full responsibility for each stage of the manufacturing process of their product instead of passing it on to their consumers.

In general, I was pleased to see that no plastic bags were offered at the fair’s booths and that people were allowed to enjoy their coffee in cups they had brought along. At many booths, reusable cups etc. were offered instead of single-use plastic.”

“At this year’s Green Week, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, headed by Dr. Gerd Müller, presented its fair program with the strapline ‘ONE WORLD – Our Responsibility’. This is an association of organisations and companies that is committed to strengthening the themes formulated in the Charter for the Future:

  1. Ensure a life of dignity for all everywhere
  2. Protect natural resources and manage them sustainably
  3. Combine economic growth, sustainability and decent work
  4. Promote and ensure human rights and good governance
  5. Build peace and strengthen human security
  6. Respect and protect cultural and religious diversity
  7. Drive transformational change through innovation, technology and digitalisation
  8. Forge a new global partnership and develop multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development

During Green Week, information regarding these eight priority areas was shared with visitors at different workstations, for instance:

  1. CLIMATE #climateconscious
  2. FOREST #forestknowledge
  3. COFFEE AND COCOA #fairlyindulging
  4. THE GREEN BUTTON #socialecologicalgovernmental

In the end, I redeemed items I had collected at these stations for a tree donation in Vietnam.”

“The booth of the Association for Compostable Products, which promotes the separate collection of organic waste in Germany, informed visitors about certified organic waste bags. This finally convinced me to start separating my organic waste at home. I also liked the innovative straws made from glass that are produced by Berlin-based company HALM. In my opinion, it should be compulsory to use these straws in restaurants and bars.”

“It was amazing to see so many producers from around Germany and further afield and some that were displaying organic foods, however, it was unfortunate that so much more wasn’t. I thought that the agricultural section was very good, giving information on how much farming has been providing for the nation, how much more it has to generate, and how it has been trying to be sustainable. There was lots of information regarding the sustainability side of farming and what the cost to the environment is by the time the product reaches the shelf.”

“At Green Week, I was pleasantly surprised that not only a huge assortment of international and regional culinary delicacies were presented, but also to find that important sustainability challenges and pathways were addressed, too, such as food cultivation and processing. Children were also offered the opportunity to engage with these themes through age-appropriate activities.”

“I really enjoyed the informative booths of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). Here, I learned of the BMEL initiative “Too good for the bin!”, which raises awareness of sustainable food management. Another interesting initiative was the “Regional Window”, which identifies a product’s origin and where it was processed. This label encourages consumers to purchase more regional products.”

“My highlight at Green Week were the SENSfoods protein bars made from cricket flour. Produced following the mantra ‘maximal nutrition, minimal harm’, significantly fewer resources such as water, area and greenhouse gases are needed to produce the same amount of animal protein. As such, 2,000 times less water, 100 times fewer greenhouse gases and 12 times less feed are needed to produce the same amount of cricket protein compared to beef.”

“This year was my first time at Green Week. I liked that this trade fair, rich in tradition, adapted its event programme to reflect central questions concerning us today, in 2020, including sustainability and climate protection. Food and agriculture cannot merely be viewed in the context of indulgence, we must go far beyond that. As such, apart from the exhibition that showcased organic and regional products, I enjoyed the information booths set up by various organisations.

I found that especially the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy (ATB) did a great job in conveying complex information. In a clear and profound way, it presented the advantages and disadvantages of plastic packaging as well as alternative packaging for fruit and vegetables. When met by the visitors’ question of which kind of packaging is the most sustainable choice, they made clear that no one option is the best. This reminded me once again of how important it is to look at sustainability challenges from a systemic perspective and to consider the whole range of solutions at hand.”

I was also happy to meet the Too Good to Go team at the fair. I’ve been using their app for food waste reduction ever since I became actively involved in fighting food waste some years ago. Viola and Stephen told me that Too Good to Go is much more than an app: “We are a food waste reduction movement. For instance, just last November, we launched the ‘Oft Länger Gut’ (Better for Longer) campaign. Together with over 40 producers, we want to raise awareness for the difference between the best-before date and the expiration date by providing an additional declaration on products, encouraging consumers to use their own senses to assess products’ shelf life. Last week, we also launched our Food Waste Knowledge Hub, an online platform that bundles all current research and resources on the topic of food waste and provides useful tools and tips on how to reduce food waste.”

More than ever, this year’s Green Week focused on climate and environmental protection. The impressions and information with which we returned to the office after our visit provided for lively discussion even days later. In view of the current social discourse on the future of our planet, we are convinced that our food and agricultural system needs to become more sustainable, and hope that sustainability will be an even bigger topic at next year’s Green Week.


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