Why is Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the Problem So Challenging?
A host of fiendishly complex issues need to be understood:
- Many hugely complex issues are embedded in the problem, from government subsidies to societal food consumption norms and global trade in agricultural commodities.
- Many drivers and factors have a hand in stoking the flame. All of them need to be grasped properly. Understanding only a single spark results in not being able to accurately describe the “elephant” (as in the folktale about six blind men each trying to figure out what an elephant looks like). Flawed understanding and diagnosis rarely delivers smart trade-offs and long-lasting solutions.
A multitude of unanswered questions still exist:
- Unanswered questions related to industrial food animal production in low- and middle-income countries are thick on the ground, many more than for high-income countries.
- Perplexities abound due to language and cultural barriers. Opaque trans-national agribusiness practices and strategies, dynamic global supply chains and feedback loops, an array of different production and consumption patterns, all combined to throw up formidable hurdles to stymie those seeking penetrating answers to the questions.
No clear roadmaps:
- For decades campaigners in high-income countries have tried various pathways to improve bad situations and have learned from their experience. They have a reasonably good sense of the directions that are likely to lead to favorable outcomes. Academic studies to explain the problem of industrial food animal production in the context of high-income countries and to evaluate the various efforts of advocates are available.
- Few signposts (if any) exist to guide front-line persons who have started to labor in all sorts of territories around the world. Few persons are able to tell compelling, instructive stories drawn from extended field experience in these places. And even when there are success stories, how confident can one be in asserting that the same approach will likely work in other countries? Low and middle-income countries are quite different from one another. There can even be important differences within regions of a single country.
Not enough robust data, information, and analyses:
- Reliable facts and figures about low- and middle-income countries are hard to obtain. They are proprietary, or very costly, or not trustworthy, or not collected – including data that are considered basic, routine, and straightforward in high-income countries. Even government departments and quasi-governmental organizations in low- and middle-income countries cannot be depended upon to possess or supply accurate statistics.
- Moreover, there are not enough high-quality analyses and systematic syntheses on which one can anchor actions and decisions. There are not enough persons working on such analyses and syntheses.
- But it is exactly sound information, evidence, and analyses on which practical plans can be based that are vital for success – not just having charismatic leaders in organizations, celebrity endorsements, or clever social media outreach.
No knowledgeable, extensive pools of networks and allies:
- Global industrial food animal production is a remarkably sophisticated system with numerous interwoven strands that criss-cross the globe while at the same time exhibiting peculiar local characteristics.
- To halt its expansion a systems approach is needed, with many hands on many oars. Local groups that are influential and familiar about local regulations and traditions are needed. Academic researchers knowledgeable about a range of subjects from farm animal science to the socio-economic landscapes of various countries are needed. And it would be highly beneficial if front-line persons and academic researchers could join forces.
- One cannot rely on a small team to come up with a “formula” that everybody in any country can adopt. No one group or single expert knows all the answers.
- One also needs mechanisms to share trustworthy, actionable knowledge widely and easily.
- But currently there is no simple way to realize most of the things mentioned above. It is not customary to go outside of one’s orbit to engage with others. Open and readily available channels of communication with unaquainted parties don’t really exist.