Agriculture meets Design

In one way or another, we’re all linked to agriculture. Food availability is the basis for building any civilization. But what we’re also hearing is the challenges that agriculture has to meet. The world population is expanding and soon we’ll have to sustain 9 billion people. There is pressure on critical natural resources, like water, soil, fuel. And this is all happening amidst unprecedented change in the global political and economic landscape.

The good news is that this challenge to agriculture is widely recognized. Issues on agriculture are climbing up the agenda’s in an increasing number of fora. The bad news is though that agriculture is stuck. And by stuck I mean that key players in the field are not reaching the level of dialogue that is needed to meet the challenge at hand. It’s industrial agriculture vs organic agriculture, pro-GMO vs non-GMO, omnivores vs vegans., agronomy vs farmers’ intuition, etc vs etc.

With this form of conversation, solutions remain isolated as foreign languages and don’t connect. They’re caught inside the buildings where agriculture is professed, while the facts and answers to our problems are outside, where farming is practiced. Such a conversation landscape overemphasizes differences between tribes, aggravating opposing views, rather than enabling recognition and utilization of mutual strengths and gains from trade. Only conservative, incremental tweaking can come from this, while what the world acutely needs is a fundamental rework of how we produce and distribute food.

What can we do about it?
Despite the negative effects of polarities in the system, you can also look at it in another way. Wouldn’t it be great if we can use this diverse body of experience and knowledge available and leverage complementarities, rather than allowing the usual patterns of interaction to emphasize disconnect? Wouldn’t that enable a broad sensemaking inquiry into the problems at hand in our agricultural system, rather than remaining at refinement exercises within our own disciplines? Wouldn’t vested views on problems then turn into challenging assumptions that are to be examined and tested?

We need to create an enabling space where these new conversations can be started, conversations with ideas that will fire innovation; discipline to discipline, people to people. Ideas that progress from such conversations will likely create new paths of solution development, lowering barriers to adoption of new, game changing ideas by nature of having traversed that path. This is, I think, what we can expect when we build a space where agriculture meets design.


Me and my colleagues will be active on the Agri Meets Design platform at the Dutch Design Week in October in Eindhoven, working with farmers and multidisciplinary design teams on experience and business model design. There will be many more equally excellent or even better events given by the partners who made Agri Meets Design possible!  I hope to also see you there! Ping me on twitter if you’re interested to connect!