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How we learn from indigenous people to combine food and technologies

Ancient Future Foodscapes

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Ancient future foodscapes - is the title of Nathalie Kelley's keynote at Anuga Horizon 2023. What initially sounds like a contradiction in itself, is in actual fact what the actress and activist considers to be the solution against the breakdown of civilisation and food shortage: Uniting traditional and old approaches with new, future-oriented techniques to combine food and technology.

Nathalie Kelley's keynote at Anuga Horizon 2023

Woken up by the Australian fires

Kelley was born in Peru and grew up in Australia. Her roots go back to the Quechuas, who originate from the indigenous people of Peru. Kelley occupies herself intensively with the incredible innovations and technologies of the Quechuas, which not even modern engineers can understand - like the Machu Picchu, the ruined city in Peru that was built by the Incas in the 15th Century. The Quechua language and culture were an integral part of the Inca Kingdom and many of the people, who were involved in the construction and usage of Machu Picchu, were Quechua-speaking people.

The catastrophic fires in Australia in 2019/2020 made Kelley question Australia's agriculture: Why so much water is needed for the cultivation of cotton and to feed the livestock, when both industries are not endemic to Australia, i.e. don't exclusively exist there or are native to the country?

In order to avoid natural catastrophes, famines and the collapse of civilisation in future, Kelley is calling for the Lo-Tek technology of the Quechuas to be applied to our present-day foodscape. Lo-Tek stands for the combination between local and traditional, ecological knowledge that has been cultivated by the Quechuas for thousands of years by observing the environment. The advantages of Lo-Tek are that the resulting foodscapes are climate-resistant, inclusive and not dependant on the raw material industry.

Nathalie Kelleys hält ihre Keynote auf der Anuga Horizon

But which Lo-Tek innovations can we learn from today and use in our food technology?

1. The Milpa Forest System: Supermarket, chemist and butcher in one

The Milpa Forest System is a pioneer of today's regenerative and sustainable agriculture. It is a traditional agricultural cultivation system that has already been implemented continuously and successfully for over 8,000 years. This food system involves different crop plants being grown in a multiannual forest garden in order to retain the fertility of the soil and promote biodiversity. Every 30 years the forest is burned down in a controlled process and a multitude of plants, 90% of which serve the people as food or medicines, use the ash to grow again, which is full of nutrients. The trees offer a habitat for insects and birds, animals can hunt here and kill their prey. According to Kelley, these are biotechnologically produced ecosystems - supermarkets, chemists and butcher shops in one.

2. Terra preta: The fertile soil

The typical soil of the Amazonas has a high concentration of clay and is not suitable for agricultural purposes. In order to make this infertile soil fertile, the indigenous people have increased the carbon content by adding organic material like burnt plants, animal bones and faeces, creating in the proceeds an extremely dark and fertile soil. The Amazon Rain Forest also arose on this soil. Terra preta has the potential to re-establish biological diversity and contribute towards combating soil degradation and climate change. Terra petra is 100% scalable and regenerative.

3. Natural selection instead of gene technology

Through the cultivation of monocultures the biodiversity of our crop plants such as potatoes and maize has reduced by 96%. The disadvantage is that the remaining crop plants could die out due to plagues or climate change. In order to counteract this plants are being genetically modified to achieve a better yield and to make them more resistant to pests, diseases and environmental conditions. Instead of relying on gene technology, which is also viewed very critically and controversially, we can make use of a further Lo-Tek technology and strengthen the natural biodiversity with a selective choice of the seeds. According to Kelley this is the only way we will achieve food sovereignty, food security and food resilience.

4. Respect for agriculture and resources

Kelley appeals that everyone should pay more attention to animals, soils, trees, plants, water and mushrooms and conserve the finite resources of our environment. She urges people to leave the world in a better state than we found it. That is indeed the basics of today's regenerative and syntropic farming, but it should be promoted and practiced even more in the future.

Take roots in the future

Nearly all the challenges of our time including food scarcity, climate change and natural catastrophes are due to human actions. Kelley demonstrates that uniting ancient techniques with modern innovations can offer solutions for present-day problems. It is often not only expedient to look ahead to the future, but also to fall back on ancient wisdom and experience.