Human impacts on the Natural World have been devastating; the good news is we can do something about it! The last article introduced a report on how to live better by the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition. This report highlights four fundamental changes humanity needs to implement. Last time, we discussed the need to transform economic models to prolong and provide a better life.
The second major transformation the world must make is our food system. The way we currently produce and consume food is a major cause of ecological destruction. We must find ways to feed a growing worldwide population a healthy diet without destroying Earth and provide an improved quality of life for the people. This can be done by implementing several sustainable agricultural processes like integrated pest and nutrient management, organic farming, soil and water conservation, and measures to improve animal welfare.
Over 820 million people are undernourished worldwide. Unfortunately, current food systems are failing us in terms of livelihoods, human health and the environment, according to the UN Environmental Program’s (UNEP). According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (IPBES), one third of all the food produced never makes it to the plate. Waste is a significant problem with current food systems. Recent statistics show that about 30% of the food in grocery stores is discarded as waste. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization statistics show, food waste costs a global annual average of 2.6 trillion dollars. We have got to look beyond the idea that more food in the world and greater productivity will solve our problems. National and local food systems must be strengthened to adapt to the climate crisis and provide better diverse diets for people in food-insecure communities. Diversity in diets helps producers diversify their risk, provide markets for variety of crops, reduce their dependency on commodity crops, and increase biodiversity and resilience.
While hundreds of millions of people are undernourished, 672 million suffer from obesity and another 1.3 billion are overweight. There is clear evidence that current food systems, its price, and obesity along with other diseases like type 2 diabetes are linked. There is also evidence that people are eating a less diverse diet today, than in the past. This has resulted in excessive tillage of arable land which is degrading soils, releasing carbon dioxide and locking farmers into unprofitable production systems. According to UNEP, agricultural subsidies are exacerbating the problem rather than improving it.
The world spending about one million dollars a minute on agricultural subsidies that are causing biodiversity loss and climate change. The UN reports that about two thirds of these subsidies are negatively influencing long-term livelihoods, the environment and our health. We need to reprogram these subsidies for regeneration and restoration of our agricultural systems, leading to long-term food security and nutrition.
It is no longer acceptable to work on these worldwide issues in isolation. We must require governments to look at food and agriculture as an issue to be addressed by public health specialists, agricultural policymakers, water and environmental specialists, and planning and finance specialists. If we continue to reduce the nature-based foundation of our food systems through how and what we produce and consume, the human right to food will continue to erode.
The good news is that feeding a growing global population a healthy diet without damaging Earth is not only possible, but will improve people’s quality of life. Leadership will respond when required to do so by the voting public! We will defeat our current worldwide pandemic and if we join together, we can initiate the changes required to provide a more desirable future!
Next time, we will examine the need to change the way we treat the world’s oceans.