With a growing population, giving everyone access to enough safe and nutritious food is a challenge. An EU-funded project brings together the public, scientists, policymakers and industry to discuss ways of tackling it.
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Food production in Europe is largely based on a few crops, all of which are susceptible to disease and climate change. This over-reliance requires constant technological advances to maintain crop quality and production levels to ensure food security. In addressing the issue, it is vital that everyone have their say.
Botanic gardens have long played an important role in discovery, dissemination and conservation of plants and much of their research is related to food security. The EU-funded BigPicnic project draws on their expertise to co-create events with people across Europe and from Africa. The aim is to get everyone talking and increase understanding of food security.
Discussions address issues like sustainable production, climate change, food safety and healthy diets. Views and opinions will be collected and turned into recommendations for Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in food security, which aims to align technological advances with society’s values and needs by involving diverse groups.
As BigPicnic coordinator Helen Miller from Botanic Gardens Conservation International in the United Kingdom explains: “We’ve been working with new audiences on the subject of food security each partner garden has been focusing on an audience that is relevant to them and/or their local area. This allows us to discover how people in different countries and social groups understand food security, exchange ideas and gather opinions to encourage RRI.”
Exhibitions and science cafés
BigPicnic starts with co-created exhibitions presenting stories about food security. Building on the exhibitions’ outcomes, it sets up so-called science cafés informal gatherings with experts to promote discussion between the public, policymakers and key stakeholders. The findings are brought together in a report outlining public opinion and recommendations for RRI in food security, and a co-creation toolkit to promote engagement on other issues.
The co-creation approach generates shared ownership between institutions and communities, enabling botanic gardens to develop exhibitions in ways that speak to local people. Everyone brings their own knowledge with all expertise equally valued to give new perspectives and enhance understanding.
All partners have been trained in co-creation and use it to develop activities. They have also received training in team-based inquiry a technique for evaluating their work.
Sharing what works
Development of engagement tools for botanic gardens and cultural sites will ensure that the methods and techniques used in the BigPicnic project are shared widely. Along with the co-creation toolkit, materials include a team-based inquiry plan, and science café and RRI toolkits.
Capacity building for BigPicnic partners has given rise to various actions.
“Partners have been working with stakeholders to influence food security,” says Miller. “Meise Botanic Garden in Belgium works with local government to make catering across government departments more sustainable and healthier. Our Greek partner works with suppliers to exploit native herbal plants for medicines and food flavouring. In Warsaw, our partner has signed a contract with the council to develop sustainable composting. Collaboration between the botanic garden in Bergamo, Italy, and lawyers is exploring how to improve food security legislation.”
Other examples include work by the Meise Botanic Garden with people of African heritage on an exhibition and film about cultural identity and food, and an initiative of Hortus botanicus Leiden to encourage other Dutch gardens to focus on food security.
“It’s expected that further results will provide a range of interesting collaborations,” Miller adds.