The significance of sustainable food systems

sustainable food systems

Food is essential to humanity’s survival, yet our relationship with food systems is severely imbalanced. The need for sustainability strategies to fix our food systems and achieve the UN SDGs cannot be understated. 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), we produce enough food globally, but almost 1 in 10 people do not have a sufficient amount to eat, and 3 billion worldwide cannot afford to eat a healthy diet. 

If that wasn’t enough, the FAO also reports that we waste one-third of all food produced in addition to the natural resources that went into their production. Continue reading to learn about the significance of sustainable food systems and why change is critical. 

What are sustainable food systems?

Sustainable food systems are food systems that deliver nutrition and food security for all of society. The system includes everything from processing food, packaging, and the transportation of food to customers. According to UN statistics, currently, our food systems are neither sustainable nor efficient. Their research reported that in 2022, around 9.2 percent of the world population, or 735 million people faced chronic hunger. This number increased by 122 million from 2019. 

Beyond the hunger crisis, unsustainable food practices remain a significant contributor to the environmental crisis, accounting for a third of greenhouse gas emissions and 70 percent of the world’s freshwater usage. There are several key indicators which determine whether a food system is sustainable. These include social sustainability, environmental sustainability, and economic sustainability. 

How to make food systems more sustainable 

Several factors are putting a strain on food systems and preventing us from establishing sustainable food systems. These include urbanisation, changing consumption patterns, population growth, and of course, climate change. This calls for an overhaul in our current practices to make our food systems more sustainable. 

The question is, how do we achieve this? We can start by harnessing the regenerative power of the Earth. This is vital to overcoming climate change, biodiversity loss, and a degrading environment. Regenerative or sustainable agriculture and food systems result in healthier soil and are capable of creating high-quality and nutritious food. 

Not to mention, regenerative agriculture does not degrade the land but improves it and supports healthy communities, economies and productive farms. This enables farmers to safeguard their livelihoods so that they can grow the food we require now and in the future. 

When it comes to farmers, we also must ensure that they are given a voice and that they support planet-friendly choices. As the global population rises, more people than ever before depend on farmers for food. Therefore, the farming community needs to be empowered to drive solutions and be at the forefront of this regenerative revolution.

Farmers can help us greatly in creating a system of services and products that can minimise dependency on patented and chemical inputs. Building stronger circular and local sustainable food systems will also be essential in maintaining valuable natural minerals, nutrients, and resources in the loop. 

Circular agribusinesses can offer us fantastic environmental solutions but also reduce countries’ dependency on imports and create job opportunities. Radical collaboration will also be key to removing the barriers that stop us from transforming the way we create and consume food. While we do not have all the information yet, we do know business-as-usual won’t cut it. 

We need to change, and this will only be possible through robust collaborations between government, farmers, consumers, funders, NGOs, and businesses. It should also be noted that we need to move away from cheap food that is costly for the planet and people and focus on the true cost. Cheap food keeps us locked into an unsustainable food system, and the current price does not reflect health-related factors, biodiversity loss, and the cost of land degradation.

The way forward for our food systems 

Our current food systems are causing significant resource depletion and adverse environmental impacts. The problem is severe, and many science academies even argue that the current food systems are broken. 

An overhaul is needed to establish sustainable food systems that support the planet and society. This is particularly the case if we are to achieve Goal 2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals related to hunger and nutrition and reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions to protect the environment. 

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