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UM team and partners are selected as finalist for Food System Vision Prize

Will share $2 million prize with other visionaries

August 10, 2020 — 

UM experts bolstered a project that will help to decolonize food systems, and it was selected as a Top 10 Finalist for the Food System Vision Prize, which was launched by The Rockefeller Foundation in partnership with SecondMuse and OpenIDEO. The Food System Vision Prize challenged people to conceive of a regenerative and nourishing food system that can be created by 2050. UM is part of the only Canadian team selected as a Finalist. Each Finalist is eligible to become a Top Visionary and to receive a prize of $200,000 USD. Top Visionaries will be announced in December 2020.

UM partnered on the entry, kwayeskastasowin wahkohtowin – A 2050 Food System Vision for Treaty Four Territory. The project was chosen from more than 1,300 proposals from 110 countries for its outstanding merits and goals. While the vision is generally applicable to the wider prairie region, it is grounded in Treaty Four Territory, which spans portions of all three Prairie Provinces. The UM Natural Systems Agriculture Lab is acting as lead organization for the project.

“The vision was shaped by a diverse group of people from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, including First Nations food experts, farmers, conservationists, writers, agricultural professionals, and researchers from various disciplines,” said the team’s lead applicant, Paul Hanley, an environmentalist and author in Saskatoon. “We responded to an open request for proposals to reimagine the world’s food systems. The Rockefeller Foundation team had observed that most future visions in popular culture, such as those in films and novels, posit a dystopian future. They were looking for positive visions of the future, visions that might inspire hope rather than despair.”

The vision formed around decolonization: working towards a future in which Indigenous land rights are reaffirmed, food sovereignty is established, diverse prairie ecosystems are restored, and sustainable, regenerative farming systems are the norm.

Transforming the agrifood system on the prairies will require a wide range of measures in six main areas: environment, economy, culture, technology, policy, and diet. The systems approach proposes 140 actions designed to make our food system secure, equitable, and sustainable.

“We had come to understand that the ultimate goal of the agrifood system was not producing food; it was ‘the cultivation and perfection of human beings’,” the group’s proposal reads.

“With this ultimate goal in mind, we came to the understanding that the key to changing the system was changing ourselves. The real work was to replace the colonial mentality, the overt and subtle racism, the desire to dominate people and nature, with the recognition—long understood by the Indigenous population—that everyone and everything is related—wahkohtowin. At every level of society—in communities, neighbourhoods, schools, businesses, organizations, and governments—the people of Treaty 4 were working hard to make things right—kwayeskastasowin. To restore the land, the rights of the Indigenous people had to be restored. Today, the spirit of Treaty 4 is honoured.”

The Natural Systems Agriculture group at the UM was a natural partner for this. Headed by plant scientist Martin Entz, it runs Canada’s oldest organic versus conventional crop comparison study and works closely with farmers to fundamentally change agricultural practice by leveraging natural systems.

“It’s an honour to provide our scientific expertise to partners who share our passion for developing just and sustainable agrifood systems, and to do so in a way that furthers our shared goal of decolonizing our systems and working towards Reconciliation. This is inspiring and energizing, which is great, because there is a lot of work to do yet,” says Entz.

In September, the finalists will advance to a three-month virtual Accelerator phase during which they will receive support to further refine their Visions and find pathways for implementation and impact. The Accelerator will focus on stakeholder engagement, storytelling, communications, and action planning through virtual programming, one-on-one mentorship and customized support. Each finalist is eligible to become a Top Visionary and to receive a prize of $200,000 USD. Top Visionaries will be announced in December 2020.

This Food System Vision Prize was launched by The Rockefeller Foundation, in partnership with SecondMuse and OpenIDEO.

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