A sustainable food system must combine healthy food, sustainable agriculture and accessible food security for all.
We are facing a dual challenge: we must achieve the food system sustainability and a sufficient, healthy food intake for everybody.
Undernourishment and unhealthy diets are two very relevant causes of death. Therefore, food security and nutrition must become a priority if we are to guarantee the wellbeing of the world’s population.
However, the input data are not positive:
- Food and agriculture account for some 21-37% greenhouse gas emitted globally.
- 1/3 of cropland and arable land is severely degraded and loses productivity.
- 820 million people still go hungry, while 2 billion lack micronutrients and 1.9 billion are overweight or obese.
Health and nutrition
Are sustainable and healthy diets for 10 billion people in 2050 feasible?
Walter Willet is the Epidemiology and Nutrition Professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He says that it is possible. Healthy and sustainable diets already exist. It is a matter of making all stakeholders (public administrations, citizens, international organizations and agrobusiness alike) aware of the fact that this is the only possible option going forward.
“A rich and balanced diet could reduce the risk of premature death by 20%”
The path to tackle changes in the food system must take into account:
- The fight against climate change
Both of these have a common enemy, which is the overconsumption of red meat, since its production generates huge amounts of greenhouse gases and requires the use of vast lands.
Resilience and Sustainability
The foundation of a resilient and healthy diet is sustainable agriculture, which first requires maintaining fertile, healthy land.
Sara Eckhouse, Executive Manager at FoodShot Global, proposes focusing on two essential areas, where significant change is required to transform the food system:
- Optimizing the use of land, in such a way that the global agricultural production shifts from an extractive model to a restorative model.
- Obtaining better quality proteins for human consumption while polluting the least possible
We must work together to develop a protein system that leverages science, technology, investment and innovation to offer great benefits to human and planetary health.
Tina Lawton, former Asia-Pacific Manager at Syngenta, considers that leadership in agrobusiness can be achieved. Common goals and principles must be set. For this to happen, we need the commitment of governments and global coordination through specific development programs.
Leadership in agribusiness is driven by SDG compliance
This collaborative effort must crystalize in an approach that empowers small farmers, gives them training, weather forecasting tools, strong seeds, insurance against disasters and financing options.
Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director at Crop Trust, an NGO working to protect crop diversity, states that COVID-19 has revealed the depth of human vulnerability in terms of food security. It is a severe, exceptional event that has required quick, globally coordinated action. It is an opportunity to learn what are the critical points of the food system. We must respond to the challenge of securing food for the growing world population, while bearing in mind the hardly predictable environment and the potential global threats.
This challenge can be addressed with a three-pronged strategy:
- Robust global institutions
- Committed political leaders
- Regulation that promotes R&D
Based on this strategy, there are two axes on which to work:
Agrobiodiversity adapted to cultural and environmental peculiarities across regions globally and optimizing the food supply chain. https://www.youtube.com/embed/o-PNaacr6A0
Having sufficient and healthy food for all is linked to a productive, diversified agriculture.
Crop diversity is at the core of agriculture. It enables it to evolve and adapt to curb the challenge of producing sufficient and nutritious food sustainably for a growing population. The solutions to challenges that threaten our food systems lie in the incredibly rich biodiversity of our food crops.
This is how we can face the problems that threaten food and nutritional security. Beyond what has already been mentioned, they include these health-related challenges:
- The current food systems do not have the capacity to feed us correctly.
- Most of the 500 million small farmers around the world live in poverty.
- The current farming production methods threaten the environment.
- Food waste and loss have impact on the sustainability of food systems.
- The loss of agricultural biodiversity, including crop diversity, radically reduces the range of options for agriculture and food going forward.
- Food systems are unstable and vulnerable to economic and ecological disruptions.
Optimizing the food supply chain
It makes sense to focus less on global supply chains and more in the regionalization of food systems
The current food systems will not be easily changed or made more resilient and sustainable. It will not be easy to increase food security either. “The silver bullet does not exist; there is not one single solution that will be enough by itself. However, we must rethink globalization in agriculture and the food industry”, says Schmitz.
Urban agriculture to effectively meet the demand for food
The FAO highlights that this practice shows remarkable benefits in terms of food security, job creation, urban waste recycling and reinforcing the resilience of cities vis-à-vis climate change.
Lim Chuan Poh, President of the Singapore Food Agency, points out that his country is immersed and very advanced in its urban agriculture model that aims to produce 30% of the country’s nutritional needs by 2030. Singapore could export this model in terms of highly productive urban solutions for food.
This type of vertical agriculture model is being successfully implemented by technological entrepreneurs. Examples of this are Square Roots and AeroFarms. According to the latter, they achieve 390 times higher productivity per square meter compared to traditional agriculture and use 95% less water and zero pesticides.