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Not your usual climate conference

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

Earlier this month, Sophie attended the 5th Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture, held in Bali in Indonesia. Chatting to Susanna, she reveals her surprise at learning how to play bamboo percussion instruments, among other highlights of the week.

Sophie reveals why the event was not your usual climate conference © WRENmedia

1) Bali is an amazing location for a conference, but were there discussions on the impact of people flying to such a destination for a conference?

Jimbaran in Bali is a really beautiful location by the beach in the south of the island and the conference venue looked directly out over the sea (and hosts the infamous Rock Bar), but yes, a long way to travel for most people. Having said that, with participants hailing from across Australia, Africa, America and Europe, I do think it would be difficult to pinpoint any one location that could cut out all of the airmiles.

So, while there weren’t any comments on the travel, there was a little experiment on the types of foods we were eating for lunch each day – and the associated GHG emissions. Researchers worked with the kitchen to collect data on the amount of meat-based (day 1), healthy and sustainable (day 2) and meat-free alternative meals (day 3) produced, consumed and wasted. It turned out that the meat alternative, vegan meals led to the least amount of food waste, as well as the lowest GHGs emissions for both production and leftovers. Those presenting this result seemed quite surprised but mentioned that we must be a very responsible audience!

2) There were some interesting approaches for ice-breakers and networking at the event. What did you enjoy the most?

We learned how to play Beethoven’s 9th symphony using bamboo! The bamboo percussion instruments all had different tones and we were instructed to play them at different times. I was so surprised that you could actually hear the melody coming through after the third practice round, and it was a great excuse to get talking to the people around you.

I also really enjoyed the speed dating challenge on the first day, which required you to meet as many other participants as possible to get their ‘passcodes’ and add the codes to the conference app. The winner was the person with the highest number of codes. This was a really fun way of networking and encouraging participants to mix with people they didn’t already know. The only draw-back was that the more competitive attendees were only interested in your passcode, and not in getting to know you! But it really helped me to put names to faces and to discuss future collaborations.

3) Climate smart agriculture (CSA) is really coming into its own in terms of an approach to build resilience against climate change. What new innovations and ideas interested you the most?

When I think about CSA, I think climate-smart practices and inputs, like drought-tolerant varieties and adding mulch/compost to soil to increase fertility, so I was surprised by how many digital innovations were highlighted at the event. For instance, in the ‘Cool Innovation Corner’, there was a virtual reality headset developed by Wageningen University and Research called ‘The Interactive Lab’. The headset allows the user to visualise an artificial farm made up of different fields as well as a list of crops/inputs/farming techniques. Using a small remote, you can select the crop type/input/farming practice you want to add to your farm and drag it across, and then on a separate graph (to the left of your field of vision), you can see how your selection has affected different aspects of the farm, like production levels and economics.

Another innovation launched at the conference was the Evidence for Resilient Agriculture (ERA) big data platform, which has gathered and stores over 75,000 agricultural data points. The platform allows users to analyse the performance of agricultural practices for resilience ‘outcomes’ like soil health, biodiversity, yields and incomes, under different environmental conditions. The user selects up to three practices (i.e. reduced tillage) and three crop products they are interested in evaluating. Using all the data available in ERA, a bar chart is then produced to show how these selected practices impact the selected resilience outcomes.

4) You’ve met a range of different people, met up with old friends/contacts and made new ones – how would you sum up the week?

It’s been really interactive and insightful. I was able to meet with incredibly interesting young researchers and entrepreneurs who are so passionate about their work in CSA, and the importance of communication to get their results/products to the farmers! And they were more than happy for me to follow up with them for CSA-focused interviews, blogs and articles for the upcoming Spore edition.

5) What one key thing will you take away from this experience?

To close the ceremony, the Netherlands Ambassador, Hans Hoogevan, pointed out that before we can transform food systems, we need to start with ourselves and each make our own incremental changes. I plan to hold on to this idea and start thinking more closely about what I’m eating and how this has knock-on impacts for the climate.

Susanna Cartmell

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