One of the most exciting things about food and ag right now is the potential for change. The industry’s environmental problems — waste, greenhouse gases, biodiversity loss — are real. But so are the solutions. Multiple studies have shown that new farming techniques, low-carbon foods and other advances can create a radically more sustainable food system.

As we kick off 2021 and await a new U.S. administration, I’m wondering how — or if — one of these possible futures can become an actual future. The ingredients for new food systems have been rigorously detailed in reports from the World Resources Institute, the EAT-Lancet Commission and others. But building futures is a far more messy business than identifying solutions.

"These reports treat these systems as something we can program," said Chris Barrett, an applied economist at Cornell University, when we talked this week. "As opposed to massive systems of billions of people that make decisions that none of us can control."

I’d called Barrett and his colleague, plant scientist Rebecca Nelson, to talk about a report from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and the journal Nature Sustainability, which they and others published last month. Yes, another report. But this one is different, because it examines the messy problem of turning potential into reality. This intrinsically social process, the authors conclude, "demands cooperation that is in shorter supply than are brilliant scientific insights."

Read the full article about collaboration for food system reform by Jim Giles at GreenBiz.