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Food sustainability is the major challenge of the 21st century

By Stephen Kafeero

Jason Drew is an ‘Environmental Capitalist,’ he is the author of The Protein Crunch and The Story Of The Fly and How It could Save The World. He spoke to The Independent’s Stephen Kafeero about his passion for businesses that are environment friendly.

For starters who is Jason Drew?

I have lived, studied and worked all over the world. I started my working life in the corporate world working for General Electric, one of the greatest companies to work for on the planet. I’m a passionate business person and an environmentalist.

I love businesses because businesses work and make things happen. I moved to South Africa in 2003 from France where I had been building a business until its sale earlier that year.   I have had and still do have a lot of businesses around the world, although now all my business interests are focused on businesses that are firmly rooted in the Sustainability Revolution.

I also have interests in a lot of businesses in the agricultural sector as I believe that food and food sustainability will be the major challenge of the 21st-century, not energy.

What prompted you to write The Protein Crunch?

I knew very little about the environment until I went to live on my farm full-time. I then discovered and read about the amazing world we live in and in particular the importance of the environment to us as individuals as well as business people and members of society.

Most environmental books I had read were generally anti-business and did not explain the environmental issues we face in simple terms that we can all understand. I read so widely and explored our planet from end to end looking at our various ecosystems and had to write the book of the problems as I saw them from the perspective of a businessman.

You have been described as an environmental capitalist. What is this all about?

I am an environmental capitalist, I want to make money from business and repair the environment at the same time.  In the Industrial Revolution to be both, you had to be schizophrenic. In the sustainability revolution you have to be both an environmentalist and a capitalist.

If you’re an environmentalist who does not understand the markets you will never address the environmental concern. If you’re a business person who does not understand the environment and work with it, your business will fail.

Driving sustainability in our food systems is something I have invested in through AgriProtein and my other businesses. Saving the seas by reducing the production of fishmeal is something which I am passionate about.

I’m motivated by finding business solutions to environmental issues and therefore repairing our future, which from where I stand is already broken. We have to harness the entrepreneurial spirit, the markets and an understanding of the environment in order to fix our problems.

Is it the capitalist system failing the world or we the people practicing it?

It’s not that it is failing, but that it might do.  Our whole business systems are undergoing the most radical change since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Those businesses that migrate and move towards a sustainable future have a future!

Those that do not will fail themselves and their stakeholders. This is not about being a little bit greener, which is extending your Industrial Revolution business model. It is about reinventing your business model completely so that it fits with the New World order and the sustainability revolution.

You write that environmental migration will be the next big thing after the current economic one what do you mean?

We’ve seen the collapse of the Horn of Africa, we are witnessing the turmoil of the Middle East at the moment. Much of this is driven by food and security, rising food prices, and an unemployed disenfranchised youth.

European agricultural policies and in particular their fishing policies, are emptying the seas around Africa and keeping our farmers poor while subsidising those in the West. We have seen people in the past move for economic opportunity and now as our natural resources and our ability to produce food in certain areas dwindles, we are seeing environmental migration.

As we further destroy our ecosystems in certain parts of the world, humans will be forced to leave those areas just as they have done throughout history. Any student of the collapse of civilisations over the last 2000 years will understand that the root cause of all these collapses has been environmental degradation. Previously this was on a local scale; it is now on a global scale.

25,000 liters of water to make my mobile phone?

Water is, I argue, one of the largest traded commodities on the planet.  It takes one thousand litres of water to make 1 kg of grain and as many as 24 kg of grain to make 1 kg of beef in the American Midwest.

When America exports this beef to the Middle East, is exporting 24,000 L of water. If the Middle East had water, it would grow its own cattle. Likewise the damming of rivers in China to store up water for industry is vital; a single mobile phone takes as much as 25,000 L of water to make. The water being used to mine the metals and cool machinery, produce the plastics, paper and glass that are integral to your mobile phone.

House flies are known to be dangerous to human beings, how do you make a kill out of them?

Contrary to popular belief and understanding, humans cannot live without flies. In particular we cannot live without their larvae that disinfect and consume decaying matter in nature. The story of the fly is so fascinating we have always just thought of the flies as a pest and never to its role in nature which is vital, integral and can be harnessed for mankind benefit.

We have misunderstood the fly and its role in nature, although from medical science to NASA and AgriProtein we are all beginning to understand the fly and its use for mankind.

So how did you come up with this idea?

I was standing at the back of a slaughterhouse in the Western Cape looking at a dam of blood, surrounded by flies. I remembered as a child that there were only 2 ways to catch fish in my Grandparents River, one was to tie a fly on to a line and cast it onto the water and the other was to attach a maggot or a worm onto a hook and drop it into the water.

Having seen the devastation that the production of fishmeal causes to our seas and the unsustainable nature of aquaculture and indeed chicken farming much of which depends on fishmeal, it dawned on me that we could use waste recycled by flies and make our industrial agriculture far more sustainable.

So are you planning to roll out the idea worldwide?

We have had interest already from over 45 countries. We are planning to start licensing technology for large-scale recycling centers in early to mid 2014

You launched the domestic recycling kit, how important is it for a household like in Uganda?

We all need to start recycling our waste nutrients. Within 15 years from now, we will consider it as normal to recycle our waste nutrients as we do our paper tin and plastic today. We all need to get busy recycling and reusing rather than extracting, manufacturing, and throwing away. There is no future in that.

What message do you have for a city like Kampala with a lot of unemployment especially among the youth but spends US$ 1.53 million per month of its scarce resources to remove only 30% of the total waste generated?

In the future there will be no such thing as waste; we will learn to reuse almost everything we produce. We cannot continue the old Industrial Revolution model of extract, manufacture and throwaway.

There are not enough resources to carry on this wasteful habit. We can create employment, reduce our environmental impact, can preserve resources for future generations to make things with. If we do not, unemployment and resource scarcity will define humanity in the 21st-century.

What kind of waste is important and which should we do away with?

There’s no waste in nature, nothing is thrown away. Everything is permanently recycled. It is only man’s intervention into these natural raw ecosystems that has led to what we call waste.

Many basic materials are widely recycled around the world, we will see more and more recycling as products are designed to be recycled rather than thrown away so that their manufacturers have access to fresh material with which to make new goods. Within 30 years from now there will be no ‘Away’ in business as there is not in nature.

What would you say motivates you most?

Finding exciting businesses that can make a difference to our future and are genuinely sustainable whilst repairing the environment or damage earlier businesses have caused.

So, in your opinion what’s the most important skill for a leader to have?

It has always been to listen. We now need to listen to different things not just shareholders, but stakeholders and one of the key stakeholders in the future of any business is the environment.

What is that one thing that young people can learn from you?

Don’t do as I did, miss out the Industrial Revolution and create your future firmly in the sustainability revolution. Look around you, look at waste, and look at how you can use it as a raw material for your business or eliminate its generation from someone else. That’s where the opportunities are for the next 15 years.

What book(s) have you read and wish you had written?

I probably read at least a book a week. A few of my favorite Business books at the moment are The Meaning Of the 21st Century by James Martin, Hot Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman. If there was one serious book I would like to have written it was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonasson is also a wonderful holiday read.

What dream do you have for the future?

I’m very happy and have had a very interesting life to date, I would like to see my own children and indeed all young people work towards a new and different 21st-century which is much more inclusive caring and understanding of  the interaction between Business, humans and the environment.

I would like to see the world get through this difficult transition from Industrial Revolution to Sustainability Revolution, it will be a hard next 15 years for everyone on this planet. There are two futures; one very bleak, and the other full of opportunity and hope.

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