Universal Basic Nutrient Income — Institutional Infrastructure for 2040 Food Preparedness

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This blog post marks the starting point of our work on the Universal Basic Nutrient Income (UBNI) policy instrument in Sweden. This speculative design project is part of our ongoing efforts within DM Food Systems Mission to deliver real-world options for the new life-ennobling economy, and the umbrella 9 out of 10” Protein Shift Innovation Platform sponsored by Vinnova. It continues our work from the Rapid Transition Lab on food system resilience, and food repricing in Sweden. We will collaborate on this with local partners MiljöMatematik.

The project proposes the introduction of Universal Basic Nutrient Income as a model for alleviating barriers to a large-scale shift towards more sustainable and healthy diets, as well as for preparing Sweden for an increasingly uncertain future through stimulating resilient local production. The realisation of such a system will be explored through a radical repricing mechanism based on true cost accounting. Furthermore, the new institutional infrastructure around such instrument needs to be aided by an increased, and coordinated ecosystem investment capacity in adequate portfolios of system interventions that can respond to different futures (e.g. 2 deg., 8 deg., supply chain collapse futures).

The prototyping phase will be carried out in Malmö where we aim to engage in food environment mapping to address affordability, accessibility, barriers and enablers to local sustainable consumption. We will test the role of UBNI under multiple future risk scenarios, and live-demonstration with citizens which will further inform dietary recommendations, policy design and municipal food system preparedness levels.

Consider the following scenario

The year is 2040. Sweden is now faced with the consequences of planetary ecological collapse due to the collective failure of transforming vital systems to meet the urgent demands of sustainability in the speed and scale required. The nation is now standing at a critical societal tipping point where the self-sufficiency agendas and local food systems’ sustainability intersect with the welfare of the citizens.

Fig 1. “Angry birds” escaped from a flooded peri-urban farm due to an abrupt rain event in 2035 (Image by the authors — Midjourney)
Fig 1b. Heavy rain events flood agricultural fields in southern Sweden in 2040 (Image by the authors — Midjourney)

The new reality of constantly increasing volatility in global markets, unstable pricing, scarce resources and extreme weather conditions has put immense pressure on the reliability of global food systems and societal functions. Seasonal food shortages, export bans and disruptions in global supply chains have caused Sweden to rapidly reassess its own food system. Inspired by some of the tests from the previous decades, the Swedish government has introduced a Universal Basic Nutrient Income model (UBNI) and adjusted the taxation system in an attempt to safeguard the food system and ensure equitable access to healthy and sustainable food within planetary boundaries.

Fig 2. Food prices linked to true cost accounting of environmental, health, societal, and resilience impacts (Image by the authors — Midjourney)

An elaborate true cost accounting model relating to dietary patterns enabled the creation of a mechanism where food pricing is linked to capacity of ecological restoration, carbon storage, multi-scalar crisis resilience, as well as healthcare cost savings, promoting mental wealth and preventive healthcare through nutrition (see the blog post - More than calories: a deep code transformation of our food systems”, 2022) Building on principles of regenerative economy, Swedes are now paying a dynamically changing Universal Basic Nutrition tax, composed through multiple instruments including increased VAT rates on foods with high costs to nature and environment. Through implementing this new taxation system, every Swedish citizen is now entitled to a provision of “free food” making the basic human right of equal access to sustainable and healthy foods a vital part of the new Swedish welfare system.

Fig 3. Sensing Labs — infrastructure of independent, coordinated labs estimating ‘True Costs of Food’ through open data infrastructures. (Image by the authors — Midjourney)

Dietary recommendations from leading research institutions and governmental bodies (incl. Livsmedelsverket Food database, Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, The Planetary Health Diet EAT Lancet, WWF One Planet Plate, RISE Food Climate database) has been operationalized and set a base for the new UNBI FoodBank — an institution that manages a dynamic portfolio of resilient, sustainable and healthy foods and recipes through multi-actor coordination. The available products and recipes are based on seasonal occurrence, local availability, current global markets, or resilience. In order for foods to be UBNI-eligible, they need to have high nutritional value and be sourced in a sustainable manner with low climate impact while ensuring both human and animal welfare. Furthermore, the FoodBank’s sensing function is responsible for addressing changing supply conditions, crisis preparedness and adequate adaptation of its food composition.

Fig 4. Local Swedish UBNI apples from an organic farm costing 0 kr, and imported apples (Image by the authors — Midjourney)

The successful model of Matkasse, the One Planet Plate weekly menus, and existing data infrastructures (e.g. Livsmedelsdatabasen) have inspired a system where citizens every week can select their subsidized set of recipes or self compose available products from the UNBI FoodBank which will be made free of charge as they promote higher national resilience goals — ecological regeneration, and society-wide health.

Fig 5. Weekly/monthly meal plan made free of charge due to its environmental, and health benefits — becoming part of the welfare infrastructure in Sweden, 2040.

Through accessible digital tools, the recipe bank allows for easy customization of meal plans, recipes and guides supporting citizens in exploring new foods and generation of shopping lists making sustainable consumption effortless and time effective. The illusion of choice is maintained and prevents the scheme to be labeled as governmental food rationing. Actors such as retailers gradually adapt to the scheme through building on existing infrastructures of membership cards, impact accounting, continued improvement of environmental and health performance of their products, resilient foods stock increase, data sharing as well as collaboration for increased localized, agroecological production and prosumer networks.

Fig 6. UBNI instrument and its Tranformation Fund resulting in new primary production territories (Image by the authors — Midjourney)

System demonstrator — Purpose, Vision, and Goals

The purpose of Universal Basic Nutrient Income demonstrator is tofurther utilize the strong Swedish welfare infrastructure as a driver for large-scale dietary change, and societal resilience. Through perceiving equal access to sustainable and healthy foods as basic human rights and a vital part of the welfare system, barriers such as financial constraints, socio-economic context and attitudes might become less impactful in restricting the desired, society-wide dietary shifts.

The Universal Basic Nutrient Income model enables a rapid inclusion of less affluent socio-economic groups into healthy and sustainable dietary habits. By reducing the financial burden for citizens of accessing sustainable foods, it addresses a critical aspect of social equity.

Furthermore, recognizing the uncertain 2040 future, and continuous shrinking of actionable and safe operating space for humanity, the UBNI instrument with its FoodBank needs to be seen through the lens of preparedness. Supply side changes, global market disruptions, or an ecological collapse may alter the Bank’s composition. In the context of increasing volatilities, the dynamically changing base recommendation on what foods are considered resilient, sustainable and healthy will need to be supported by an institutionalized sensing and citizen support infrastructure informing what foods should be subsidized and which taxed, and in collapse scenarios, which ones rapidly produced or imported for resilience.

Hence, the vision behind this demonstrator is to shift the mindset from consumers being the main agents of change towards acknowledging the potential which lies in strong civic incentive mechanisms and multi-actor coordination infrastructure as means for achieving large-scale transformation and food sovereignty for all within multiple future possible scenarios.

Recognizing the power of local actor levels and governments in spearheading action towards promoting healthy and sustainable diets, the FoodBank will deal not only as a base for UBNI but also as an organization for transparent and decentralized coordination (see: DAO) between private, public and civic actors to co-curate and decide (e.g. through quadratic voting) on societal-scale portfolios of investments for preparedness, moving beyond short-return cycles, or grant making. In return, the institutionalized food programme will not be seen as a food rationing governmental initiative but a democratization of “who decides what we eat?”

The main goal is to co-design and test the possibility of the Universal Basic Nutrient Income model. This will entail design incl. food-related true cost accounting models (TMG & WWF, 2021), taxation and subsidies targeting dietary patterns (Röös et al, 2021), as well as foresight methodologies concerning the spectrum of future changes to dietary recommendations and food system risks endangering nutritional needs.

Prototype

The idea behind the prototype is to collaboratively develop a Universal Basic Nutrient Income Framework — an incentivising system that sees equal access to sustainable foods as a fundamental human right while addressing future uncertainties in the food system.

Refinement of the concept will be done through a collaborative foresight workshop with local food system actors based on Malmö municipality as test bed. Testing, and the tangible live demonstration will be done through an experiment with engagement of four local citizens scouting their local food environment in search for FoodBank sustainable foods and following a nutritional recommendation according to four future scenarios.

Fig 8. We have the apps already. How would the spaces of retail sector change under the Universal Basic Income instrument? (Image by the authors — Midjourney)

Through its provocational character, where the hypothesis is that food could be provided technically for free if true cost accounting models and taxation showcased its feasibility, the prototype will aim to inspire conversation on implementation of strong repricing measures. Furthermore, formation of institutional infrastructures for future resilience in a specific (Malmö) local context will be discussed.

Through its provocational character, where the hypothesis is that food could be provided technically for free if true cost accounting models and taxation showcased its feasibility, the prototype will aim to inspire conversation on implementation of strong repricing measures. Furthermore, formation of institutional infrastructures for future resilience in a specific (Malmö) local context will be discussed.

Contact

This blog post has been written by
Aleksander Nowak | aleks@darkmatterlabs.org
Alex Hansten | alex@darkmatterlabs.org

and would not be possible without all the inspiring work of colleagues from Dark Matter Labs

Work sponsored by Vinnova as part of the 8 innovation platform

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Dark Matter
9outof10 — Protein Shift Innovation Platform

Designing 21st Century Dark Matter for a Decentralised, Distributed & Democratic tomorrow; part of @infostructure00