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Full Stacking Food and Agriculture
What does "Full Stack" look like, if you work in Food and Agriculture?
Programming Note: Just in case you were wondering why I have been quiet with no “State of Agritech” research briefs for this week, in the august company of India’s finest agrarian scholars and civil society organizations I deeply respect, I presented a paper yesterday in “Managing Sustainable Transitions” seminar at the prestigious Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA).
I explored the idea of Pace Layers further (introduced here and elaborated further here) to design alternative markets and marketplaces that could create and meet demand for sustainable food and fibre products and sustain rural livelihoods. I will be serializing this paper over the next few weeks besides regular programming.
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Full Stacking Food and Agriculture
If you’ve worked in the tech world, you would have heard the term “Full Stack”. In the power law of technological talent, they who call themselves “Full Stackers” stand at the top of the totem pole. “Full Stackers” are a small band of occult technologists who work across pretty much everything - the entire distributed systems, the front end, the back end, the data stores, the message queues, networks, data centers, and all the rest of it.
What does “Full Stack” look like when you work in the domains of food and agriculture?
I sketched this version of the Pace Layers model when I yearned to see the panoramic view of the broken food and agriculture systems that neither serve us -farmers and consumers - nor the planet. In the eternal words of John Godfrey Saxe
“Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean, And prate about an Elephant Not one of [us] has seen!”
When I was working as an agritech product manager between 2016-19, I worked in the fast layers of marketplaces and markets. In the first phase of your career, it is best to work on fast-moving things: Technology, marketplaces, and markets. Whatever moves fast and breaks fast is a great place to go and work on.
In the second phase of your career, once you've grown satiated or god forbid, tired or worse, weary of the fast-moving things, you can use your skills and experience to work on slow-moving things: Infrastructure, Policies, Culture, and Nature. The joys you get are more intrinsic, more suited to your evolved view of the world- You are just a speck in the universe.
This might sound immodest.
One primal reason why I find myself excited to run a solopreneurship business around Agribusiness Matters (and the parent holding company Gigyasa Labs) is to explore the possibility of working “Full Stack” in food and agriculture across each fast and slow pace layer.
The idea of Pace Layers was based on the work of architect Frank Duffy who sketched the concept of Shearing Layers, based on a central insight: Every building wants to tear itself apart. '
They identified several shearing layers which later led Stewart Brand to propose Pace Layers that determine the health of civilizations. Because you see, unlike buildings, although it might seem so, civilizations are not trying to tear themselves apart.
Beware of the dangers of reductionism when you start to think that the slowest layers are always at the bottom and the fast layers are always at the top. In times of rapid discontinuity, when you have revolutions and rapid changes, the lower layers move faster than the upper layers.
Take the case of the city where I am writing this from.
Hyderabad was once called the city of Grapes. ‘It created the world record in grape production of 42 tons of Anab-e-Shahi per acre (105 MT/ha) in 1969;’
“This was described as a spectacular yield and a biological wonder by Dr.H.P.Olmo, a renowned Viticulture Scientist of the world (Chadha K.L.1992). (Source)”
What happened to the grapes of the city?
Cultivation came down drastically ‘from 10,000 acres in the 1990s to just 5,000 acres in 2008 and currently stands at 750 acres in Telangana’ as grape growers found it profitable to join the real estate drive, fueled by the State’s earnest effort to make sure that Hyderabad’s real estate market remains attractive for investors, even if it means challenging the barricades put in place for environmental concerns.
Changes in slow layers of policies - agricultural reform, whether they are happening in the US or in India is frustrating for a reason. They provide the necessary feedback loops for the new food and agricultural systems to emerge.
“We don't have to deplore technology and business changing rapidly while government controls, cultural mores, and "wisdom" change slowly. That's their job…The total effect of the pace layers is that they provide a many-leveled corrective, stabilizing feedback throughout the system. It is precisely in the apparent contradictions between the pace layers that civilization finds its surest health.” - Stewart Brand
As we stand in the liminal space between industrial agriculture paradigm and agroecology paradigm, can we examine what newer value chains that are needed to be created to facilitate this transition? How do we design alternative markets and marketplaces that midwife this transition? We will explore further.
So, what do you think?
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