Taking an integrated approach to sustainable agriculture

May 5, 2021
By The Explorer

“Human health is inseparable from plant and animal health,” says Ola Hedstein of Rethink Food. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how true this is.

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Ola Hedstein, Co-founder, Rethink Food

At the time of this Q&A, Hedstein was the CEO of Norwegian Agricultural Cooperatives, a special interest organisation for 17 farmers’ cooperatives. He has now founded his own organisation, Rethink Food, a self-described combination of a think tank and an influencer, whose vision is to make sustainable agriculture profitable.

Here Hedstein talks about Norway’s agricultural sector, sustainable practices and technology development and underlines the importance of ensuring food self-sufficiency, food safety and food security.

What does sustainability look like in the agricultural sector?

The transition from fossil to renewable resources is the most important sustainability trend – regardless of sector. Although renewable energy is essential, we also need a more bio-based economy in which renewable bio resources from soil, forests and the ocean are used to produce foods and other goods.

The Norwegian agricultural sector takes an integrated approach to sustainability. In a world which fears more people dying from antibiotic resistant bacteria than cancer, Norway is drawing attention because we use extremely small amounts of antibiotics, other drugs and pesticides in agriculture. We also understand that production based on considerations beyond delivering the cheapest possible food – whatever the cost – can open up new markets and enhance competitiveness.

Food production in Norway is not easy. Norwegian farmers have therefore developed agricultural practices to try to compensate for limitations imposed by landscape and climate. The Norwegian agricultural sector – with its distinctive characteristics combined with advanced technology – can show how food can be produced under less-than-ideal conditions, also in other parts of the world.

What does your ideal world look like?

My dream is that sustainable food production will be profitable. World leaders must take stock of the situation and acknowledge that as long as non-sustainable production is more lucrative, change will take a long time – perhaps too long.

If today’s trade agreements increase the competitiveness of countries and companies with the poorest health, safety and environmental standards – then new trade agreements must be drawn up that have the opposite effect. This is just as feasible as introducing the polluters pay principle.

What does Norwegian agriculture have to share the world? 

Food production has never been cheap in Norway, so we have always had to optimise production with other things than cheap labour – most notably knowledge and technology. Norwegian agriculture is also based on the same values as the UN Sustainable Development Goals – which is where I believe our future competitiveness lies.

In addition, Norway has unique animal genetics and breeding techniques and new technological solutions for efficient food production with minimal use of medicines and pesticides.

Norway is home to a steady stream of startups with novel concepts for sustainable food production. Some of these have already presented their solutions on The Explorer, and I hope many more will soon find their way there.

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OS ID offers intelligent livestock identification for better farm management.

Tom Gustavsen