Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is solving hunger really a click away?

I stumbled across Woolworth's Living Wall by pure chance today, and even though it was fun planting a strawberry plant for free and having my name stuck to it, it made me wonder what exactly was being said by the whole initiative? The site claims that for every plant you click on, Woolworths will donate one plant to a South African school with a permaculture garden to commemorate World Food Day (16 October).

After thinking about it for a while, I felt like a real hypocrite. I recently marked an assignment of one of the BPhil students at the Sustainability Institute, who did a case study on Woolworth's Farming for the Future initiative. He found the investigation very frustrating, as no information was available on the exact farming principles farmers had to follow to qualify as suppliers. He reported that the word 'confidential' was used a lot in interviews.

If we are trying to promote sustainable food systems in which producers, distributors and consumers are held accountable for their actions, why are we, as consumers, denied access to information about the methods used to produce our food? He also said that the general impression he got was that Woolworths was enforcing methods that were only reducing damage to the environment and not really addressing the fact that natural resources are limited and mostly degraded. Having less poison on your food and in the soil isn't good, the damage still adds up.

The marking of that paper influenced me to look beyond the pretty virtual plants on Woolworths' living wall. I would like to ask Woolworhts some questions:

1. If you want to address hunger, are spinach, tomatoes, strawberries and basil going to do the trick or were they chosen because they look pretty? For who? Are we talking hunger or marketing here?

2. If Woolworths makes solving hunger a game and as easy as clicking on a pretty virtual plant, how will we ever learn of the difficult realities behind world hunger?

3. Why do you need me to click on a plant in order to donate it to a school? Why don't you just donate it?

4. Why do you need my name and email address?

5. Do the schools you are donating these plants to also have feeding schemes that supply hungry children with meals?

6. When are you going to donate the plants? Who is going to make sure that they are planted and maintained?

I could think of more questions to ask, but that is not the point I am trying to make here. What I am saying is that pretty pictures and games are not going to solve food crises if it is not followed up with hardcore facts and explanations. I'm all for aesthetics, as long as it is not used to hide things or manipulate. I'm happy that people at least knew that 16 October was World Food Day, but fail to see how this initiative made any real change in the world. Solving food crises needs extensive, systematic global changes. Sitting back and clicking on a virtual strawberry plant will not feed the world. 7271 spinach, basil, tomato and strawberry plants are not impressive. Woolworths, you have to do better than that!


gec said...

I agree that things need to be thought through more and there is this trend of "let's make an app", "let's make a Facebook fan page", "let's make a silly game" that can become annoying. But I wouldn't dismiss these technologies as a whole. Silly as they are they can be used to effect great change. But yes indeed, this is probably not an example of that.

Anonymous said...

Bang on the nose there - if Woolworths is for sustainable living, why not be more open about it all, show everyone exactly what and how they are making things better so we can all make get involved. Or is a sunstainable living just for a few of "us" in the world