The 4th Asia Pacific Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics Conference 2020 (Kazuhiko Ota, RIHN Assistant Professor)

FEAST HQ Conference and Symposium, Report

The 4th Asia Pacific Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics Conference 2020 (APSAFE2020) was held for two weeks from December 3-16, 2020 with the theme of “Supporting Sustainable Food Systems: Quality Food and Ethical Consumption”. It was our first time to organize online conference, but the format allowed to attract 150 participants from 21 countries, and it ended with a great success.

Event poster

APSAFE2020 was initially planned to be part of the International Conference on Applied Ethics (ICAE) scheduled to be held at Hiroshima University in December. Unfortunately, however, the spread of COVID-19 led our decision to hold an online conference. The following are the three main objectives.
1) To create an opportunity for participants to share their experiences and insights of unexpected situations in their locations in 2020.
2) To provide an open space for discussion that is easy for those who have difficulty in securing travel expenses and travel schedule (students, NPO workers, independent researchers…) to participate.
3) To support transdisciplinary collaborations that will contribute to improving the food system sustainability in the Asia-Pacific region.

After giving much thoughts to the design of an online international conference that would best meet these requirements, we decided on the following format.
・To extend the conference duration from three days as originally planned to two weeks, and
・To organize real-time events (plenary sessions, etc.) on Google Meet, and
・To promote exchange of opinions, information sharing, and mutual learning (individual research reports, etc.) on Slack.

I have read and taken into account many papers on the advantages and disadvantages of online communication, but the following is the one I mainly referred to.
Arnal, A., Epifanio, I., Gregori, P., & Martínez, V. (2020). Ten Simple Rules for organizing a non-real-time web conference. PLOS.

Combining administrative correspondence (email), exchange of ideas and mutual learning (Slack), and fun events (Google Meet) has been already used in many other online academic conferences and will probably become more and more common in the future.

At APSAFE2020, we had 21 individual presentations. A variety of initiatives and case studies were presented from India, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal, and Japan, and their ethical exploration were all very thought provoking. Each presenter had their own channel on Slack and this presentation style resembles a poster presentation and the visitors to each channel exchanged opinions and asked questions. The topics of individuals presentations are as follows:

・Technology transfer and its domino effects in India (e.g. women’s empowerment)
・Virtues of ecosystem conservation observed in traditional fishing methods in Micronesia
・Rectification of the gender divide in Indonesian crab fishing
・Difficulties faced by vegetarians who travel to Japan
・Relationship between food choices, identity and exclusion from groups
・Risks in the global food supply chain: exploring from the perspective of loyalty
・The COVID-19 pandemic reveals vulnerabilities of food systems
・To what extent are urban residents interested in and willing to pay for ecosystem services?
・Alternative food networks in Japan beyond teikei (producer-consumer relationships)
・The concept of “public interest” in the debate on the revision of the Seed Act
・Why we need to move from “Green Infrastructure” to “Multispecies Cities”
・Changes in media discourse on fish at local festivals in Korea
・What is behind Japanese farmers’ seed saving practices?
・The development of civic food networks in India
・Traditional upland rice cultivation in Nepal
・Can Japan’s “Fishery Forest Movement” be the driver for a transition into a sustainable society?
・How about introducing the new concept of “everyday food” in Japan for the various alternative food concepts?
・Socio-economic and religious aspects as reflected in meat production and consumption practices in Bhutan
・How are Japanese sake localized and demanded in Brazil?
・How should food ethics researchers behave in fieldwork?
・Would social networking sites (Twitter and Instagram) promote diversity in agriculture?

Is any of these topics of your interests? You can read all the detailed short papers by the presenters for free on the APSAFE2020 website

In addition to these individual presentations, APSAFE2020 also held three plenary sessions with five distinguished guest speakers.

Visioning Speech by Prof. Kirill Thompson

In the Opening Plenary on December 3, Prof. Kirill O. Thompson of National Taiwan University gave a visioning speech titled “Ethical Musings on Farm and Food Future”. The participants’ interest on his vision on combining traditional agriculture and advanced technology that would allow balancing sufficient food production and reduction of environmental impacts and exploitation didn’t end at the real-time discussion on Google Meet, but further extended afterwards on Slack.

Keynote Speeches

On December 11, the Keynote Speech session was organized. Prof. Paul B. Thompson, Michigan State University, USA, gave a talk entitled “Agriculture and Food Ethics: Is It Time to Go Back to Basics?”, which were then followed by Dr. Wei-Chi Chang’s “Food Safety or National Security? : The Impact of Global Political Changes on Local Food Systems in the Post Pandemic Era” (National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan), Prof. Steven McGreevy’s “Ethical Implications of Transitioning to 1.5-degree Food Systems” (Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan) and finally Dr. Mimi E. Lam’s “Sustaining the Global Ocean-Human System with Ethical Seafood Value Chains” (University of Bergen, Norway). Although this session was scheduled from 8:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m (JST), some of the participants continued the discussion until almost 11:30 p.m. We plan to share the recorded keynote speeches on YouTube.

Discussion via Google Meet

And, during the Closing Plenary session on December 16, the participants shared opinions and impressions of this two-week long conference in “Lightning Talk,” and also had a lively discussion on what’s next for APSAFE such as possible topics and themes that we would like to cover in the coming webinar series in 2021 as a continuation of a discussion on Slack. Over the course of the two-week conference, 31 discussion channels were created on Slack with 3,488 posts. We will announce the details of the webinar series as soon as they are finalized. Please keep an eye out for the announcement.

As one of organizers, I was heavily involved in planning and preparation for one year. What comes up in my mind now that the conference is that a good team, good tools, and scheduling with time and room for adjustment are really important. I would like to thank all the Science Committee’s members for undertaking the review of the short papers, and the designers and secretariat staff who had created and managed a great online venue (Here is the list of our team members! ).

Once again to all participants of APSAFE2020, thank you for sticking around for two weeks. May your new year holiday be full of joy and smiles!

(The original post was written in Japanese. Translated by Yuko K.)