SAI Platform Podcast: Lucas Simons

28th July 2022

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We sat down with the former director of UTZ and author of “Changing the Food Game” and its sequel “Changing the Game” to reflect on 20 years of collaboration in sustainable agriculture.

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2022 marks the 20th anniversary of SAI Platform. As we reach this important milestone, SAI Platform celebrates People Powered Agriculture and the pioneers who have been transforming agriculture. For Lucas Simons focusing on celebrating the change-makers is recognising that “it is the individual that comes up with the idea, that pushes it against the system, finds the resilience and the courage to continue which ultimately changes the system.”

During this introspective conversation, Simons shares with us his insightful analysis on market transformation and his thoughts and ideas on how best to leverage SAI Platform’s collaborative space.

“Sometimes the solution is to compete, find out what works and then afterwards agree on how to work together”

Collaboration is one of the four phases that Simons has identified for a market to become sustainable, each with its specific behaviours and timing. Market actors enter into this transformation journey usually in response to a crisis strong enough to have forced them to acknowledge the problem and decide to act on it.

In the first phase, market actors are inexperienced, unaware and lack understanding. During this early stage, they start to invest in training farmers, building schools and charities. This pilot and project phase enables market actors to learn about potential solutions.

When forerunners start to deploy solutions to capture first mover advantages, the market enters the second phase. At this point few organisations are working together, resulting in a multiplication and competing of sustainability initiatives: 8 standards for coffee, 6 for cocoa, 15 for flowers, 51 for seafood for example.

To help bring some order into the equation, Simons considers neutral organisations, like SAI Platform, well positioned to steer the market actors towards the collaboration phase.  At this stage, market actors need to ask themselves what the vision is, how would the sector look if it was more sustainable and what are the steps required to get there, in other words, how to scale what works.

“The [sustainability] problems that we see are for the most part linked to the archetype of the production system”

The “non-competitive phase” is a key formative moment for the market where priorities change and the foundations of the new normal are set. Market actors have agreed on how to scale, barriers are being removed, and free riders must comply or get out of the system. However, to get to this final phase, the market actors need to understand the driving forces.

Using a systems lens, Simons has identified four driving forces that shape market archetypes with very specific sustainability issues. Hence, to address them, market actors need to question certain forces such as: what is the market competing on? What are the barriers that block farmers from entering? How enabling is the institutional environment? And how easy is it for farmers to leave the market?

Members should use spaces like SAI Platform to discuss driving forces for more integrated and systemic conversation. Notably, what they want to recognise and appreciate in the market and their role in rural economy transformation to support and help the farmers of the future while enabling rural communities to diversify their livelihoods.

You can listen to the full conversation with Lucas Simons below:

Lucas Simons is an Internationally recognised thought leader on systems change and sustainable market transformation, a public speaker, master facilitator, trainer, lecturer at business schools and author of the successful books ‘Changing the Food Game’ (2014) and ‘Changing the Game’ (2021). For more information on Lucas Simons’ work, visit his company website.