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Agricultural Systems of the Future

Agricultural Systems of the Future Vision Camp (Concept Illustration)

In 2016, Dr. Arndt Pechstein and Dr. Fabian Feutlinske were approached by Bioland to take part in a joint application for the “Agrarsysteme der Zukunft” (“Agricultural Systems of the Future”) project, launched and supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany. In November, months of hard work came together to form the kick-off Vision Camp, coached by Dr. Fabian Feutlinske and Morganne Graves. Together with our project partners Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau, Hochschule für nachhaltige Entwicklung Eberswalde, Transition Town Frankfurt, Bioland, Demeter, and Naturland, our aim was to bring together different stakeholders in a productive dialogue, and to create a vision for what a sustainable, agricultural system of the future could look like. The two-day Vision Camp workshop brought farmers, scientists, consumers, entrepreneurs and students to the design table. Given that all of the participants are involved in the food system to a different degree, and have different expectations and needs, it was important to imagine and design together from the beginning.


The Challenge

As we move away from conventional industrial agricultural models, we need to find viable alternatives, which do not rely on high energy input and synthetic chemical additives that bypass natural circuits and regulatory mechanisms. Even though such industrial farming processes aim to maximize output, there are more than 4 billion people that are malnourished worldwide. This shows that our current agricultural and food distribution system is not addressing today’s ecological, economical and humanitarian challenges. Based on the Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s goals for 2030, we want to reform the agricultural system, bringing in a deeper understanding of natural conditions, such as local nutrient cycles, soil fertility levels and how different factors are related or affect each other. Finally, today’s agricultural system, like almost all other areas of the economy, is facing the challenge of rapid digital transformation and technical advancements, all of which will have dramatic impacts on the way farmers work. Agriculture 4.0 opens up many questions about who owns and collects information about our food system and what are the dependencies that arise from this new dynamic. How can the governments and organizations intervene to protect the liberty of food producers? One of the participants in the Vision Camp, Christian Meier from the Basic Income Initiative, lays out his vision for the future of agriculture, especially in relation to automation, in his post.


Our Innovative Approach

Since these challenges require an understanding of a complex system in its entirety, and involve many stakeholders and users, we decided to use four creative methods which encourage sustainable social and technological innovation through teamwork and collaboration.

Design Thinking – is a creative, collaborative problem solving method which allows teams to generate innovative solutions in times of rapid change. It is a solution-oriented method which places the user’s needs at the heart of the process. By bringing together different stakeholders, users and experts in a team, and by encouraging the sharing of knowledge, experience and different perspectives, Design Thinking allows the “wisdom of the crowd” to be harnessed when dealing with complex challenges. The phi360 team is comprised of Design Thinking experts Dr. Arndt Pechstein, Morganne Graves and Dr. Fabian Feutlinske who helped facilitate and mentor the process.

Biomimicry Thinking – Nature has optimized and perfected its systems, designs and processes over billions of years, resulting in countless intelligent solutions and strategies that we can use to solve the problems we are facing today. Biomimicry is an approach that analyses and abstracts the design principles underlying natural forms, models and systems and transfers them to solve our challenges: from architecture, to mobility, to change management in organizations. The Biomimicry method condenses eons of evolution into a creative innovation process. Phi360’s Dr. Arndt Pechstein is a certified Biomimicry Specialist and is guiding and mentoring the team in this project.

Circular Economy – Rather than understanding the economy as being comprised of isolated components, materials and products which make up a system, the increasing complexity of the world demands that we examine things as part of a larger system and in context: how do changes in one area, trigger changes in another, what are the dependencies between things, how can we use the waste from one industry as raw material for another. Connecting all the dots within the entire system allows for a much more effective use of natural resources, ultimately ensuring the resilience of the system. As part of this project we are working closely with Dr. Sonja Eser, Biomimicry Germany member, expert in Circular Economy and Cradle-to-Cradle.

Hybrid Thinking – Our expertise lies in knowing how to fuse together Design Thinking, Biomimicry, and Circular Economy, and knowing at which point in the process different tools and methods make sense. We are experienced in providing this versatile toolkit for all our projects, in order to bring the greatest impact in times of complexity and rapid change.


Photo credit: Stephanie Fischinger

Our coaches Morganne Graves and Dr. Fabian Feutlinske, our partners and other participants of the Vision Camp used the outcomes to apply for the next round of funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. We are excited to be able to take the next step towards a biobased economy, hand in hand with our project partners!


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