I’ve written about this before, but I want to expand on the concept here.
Imagine what a world would be like if there was no shortage of good quality, edible food anywhere? If you could go to any part of the world and find plenty of fresh, delicious fruits, vegetables, fungus, nuts, grains, legumes, seeds and herbs?
Here is a design for a system called the Global Food Network, built using current technology, that could potentially achieve this.
1. The system is built around a piece of software whose components would include several websites, a database, server-side AI software (probably written in Java), and several servers.
2. Parnterships are formed with organic vegan farmers all over the world. They become suppliers to the GFN. Through a website they record all of the crops they’ve planted – which species, when they were planted, when they’re due for harvest, the expected yield, and their desired selling price. The standard of food is as high as possible, fresh, nutritious, and 100% organic and vegan.
3. Customers, which will include retailers, wholesalers and food distribution points, will use a website to register their food requirements and preferences. Customers are organised into 3 groups. Class C customers will be those in developed countries for whom lack of food is not a major stressor (e.g. Australia, Europe, Canada, USA, Japan). They will pay a reasonable market price for the food. Class B customers will be those in countries who are still considered "developing", but are also modernising quickly and becoming more affluent (e.g. Chile, Colombia, China, Belgium). Customers in those countries would pay half price. Class A customers will be from those countries suffering from famine. They will pay nothing.
4. Another key component in the whole operation is a fleet of vehicles, including trucks, ships, aeroplanes and trains, operated by transport companies all over the world. These are used for transporting food between producers and consumers. The location, condition, availability, speed and capacity of every vehicle is also recorded via a website by their operators.
5. A food waste recycling system converts waste from the production and consumption of organic vegan food into high-quality fertiliser and humus. The waste vegetation will be collected from farms and food distribution points. Most of it will return to the farms, but some may also be sent to the various food distribution points for local farmers.
The software is constantly evaluating the incoming data. As long as all participants are diligent in their data entry (which they should be, considering how much it will be to their benefit if they are), then the software will know at any time (or will be able to find out via a simple web service request), things like:
- how much food is currently available or will soon be, and where it is
- where all the vehicles are and what their state is
- how much food the customers need and what their preferences are
- what time it is everywhere on the planet
- what the weather is like everywhere
- what the cost and availability of electricity and petrol is everywhere
- regulations and costs involved with bringing food into any country or region in the world
It crunches all of this data and produces a continuous stream of instructions. Instructions are sent to the drivers and operators of the various vehicles, instructing them where to collect food from and deliver it to, and where they can obtain fuel (including electricity, hydrogen or hydrocarbon). (Note that all fuel is paid for by the GFN, not the transport companies. In this way the cost of the fuel will be reduced by making large deals with fuel suppliers.)
Instructions are also issued to farmers to tell them when to expect vehicles to collect food or deliver fertiliser. As part of its calculations, the software would also make deals with the farmers, selecting the suppliers with the best balance of price and quality, or in the case of some crops, simply buying everything that is available. This would all be almost totally automated. The goal of the software is to deliver as much as possible of the best quality organic vegan food, while also satisfying as many customer preferences as possible.
Food distribution points (shops, etc.) are kept up-to-date through the website as to when they can expect deliveries and what food (crop and quantity) is to be delivered. They have the opportunity to update their preferences at any time, which will influence the software’s decisions.
So, this is the basic concept of the GFN as currently envisaged, although it will surely evolve.
A couple of questions are expected:
How can this be paid for? The answer is: the UN. And since the UN is funded by national governments, who are in turn funded by their taxpayers, the true answer is the people of Earth. And who better to pay for the food of the people than the people themselves? It will be like any free government service, except on a global scale and executed with much greater intelligence, better technology, and considerably higher commitment to quality and customer service than we usually expect from a government.
Why does it have to be organic vegan food? Because this category of food:
- is the healthiest on Earth
- causes the least environmental harm
- involves the least cruelty to animals
- consumes the least amount of water
- produces the least amount of pollution
- has the highest yield per hectare of land
The goal here is an optimised system: feeding as many people as possible the best possible quality food. Due to the symbiotic relationships between plants, animals, humans, dirt, waterways and air, if the GFN becomes the primary supplier of food in the world then we can expect global costs of healthcare to dramatically decrease, improved soil, water and air quality, healthier ecosystems, increased tree and animals populations, abundant fresh water, and a wide variety of other inter-related benefits.
The next level of agriculture will be (or at least, it can be) high-tech large-scale production of organic vegan food using AI, robotics and permaculture. This approach should, in theory, greatly reduce the cost of organic vegan food while improving its quality and yield.
The Global Food Network does not have to be an excessively expensive project. Development of the software would probably require international inter-university collaboration involving some of the world’s best software engineers and AI specialists, which may be a significant expense for the first few years. However, costs of food production and transport should decrease due to new technology, plus some of the expense can be recovered by sale of the food, fertiliser and farm equipment to Class B and C customers.
AI and robotics are the primary technological tools that will make this kind of system operational. While in my view genetic engineering could also play an important role in improving crop yield and quality, there is currently considerable mistrust about genetic modification of food, which is understandable given how the tech has been used to control markets. It may take many years and significant changes in approach before genetically modified crops are trusted. However, there is no need to wait until then. Permaculture buit around layouts for gardens and farms generated by computer programs that determine the optimal distribution of plants, will also have a significant, positive effect on crop yield and quality.