Our Actions are Our Future
Every year, on 16 October, World Food Day is celebrated to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in the year 1979. The day aims at promoting global awareness regarding food security, action for those who suffer from hunger, and to highlight the need to ensure healthy diets for all.
The food we choose and the way we consume affects our health and that of our planet. It has an impact on the way agri-food systems work. So we need to be the part of the change.
An agri-food system is a complex term that may seem far from reality, but do we know that our lives depend on them? Every time we eat, we participate in the system. The food we choose and the way we produce, prepare, cook and store it make us an integral and active part of the way in which an agri-food system works.
A sustainable agri-food system is one in which a variety of sufficient, nutritious and safe foods is available at an affordable price to everyone, and nobody is hungry or suffers from any form of malnutrition. The shelves are stocked at the local market or food store, but less food is wasted and the food supply chain is more resilient to shocks such as extreme weather, price spikes or pandemics, all while limiting, rather than worsening, environmental degradation or climate change. In fact, sustainable agri-food systems deliver food security and nutrition for all, without compromising the economic, social and environmental bases, for generations to come.
This leads to better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all.
Agri-food systems employ about a billion people worldwide, more than any other economic sector. Moreover, the way we produce, consume and, sadly, waste food exacts a heavy toll on our planet, putting unnecessary pressure on natural resources, the environment and climate. Food production too often degrades or destroys natural habitats and contributes to species extinction. Such inefficiency is costing us trillions of dollars, but, most importantly, today’s agri-food systems are exposing profound inequalities and injustices in our global society. Three billion people cannot afford healthy diets, while overweight and obesity continue to increase worldwide.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined that an urgent change of route is needed. It has made it even harder for farmers – already grappling with climate variability and extremes – to sell their harvests, while rising poverty is pushing an increased number of city residents to use food banks, and millions of people require emergency food aid. We need sustainable agri-food systems that are capable of nourishing 10 billion people by 2050.
Some points to ponder upon:
- Biodiversity is suffering and soils are being degraded as a result of intensified agriculture, a growing consumption of resource-intensive foods, and the conversion of natural ecosystems for crop production or pasture
- Climate change affects the rural poor, agricultural yields and productivity, and can contribute to changing nutrient composition of major staple crops, including decreases in proteins, and some essential minerals and vitamins
- Ten percent people are affected by unsafe food supplies contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances
- Fifty five percent of the world’s population resides in cities and this will rise to sixty eight percent by 2050
- Fourteen percent of the world’s food is lost due to inadequate harvesting, handling, storage and transit and seventeen percent is wasted at consumer level
- The world’s food systems are currently responsible for more than thirty three percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions
- Globally, twenty percent more women than men aged 25-34 live in extreme poverty and more than eighteen percent of indigenous women live on less than USD 1.90 a day
- Smallholder farmers produce more than thirty three percent of the world’s food, despite challenges including poverty and a lack of access to finance, training and technology
- The world’s agri-food systems currently employ one billion people, more than any other sector
- Related health-care costs could exceed USD 1.3 trillion per year by 2030
- Almost two million people are overweight or obese due to poor diet and sedentary lifestyle
- More than three billion people (almost forty percent of the world’s population) cannot afford a healthy diet
So we need to learn from Nature; learn what?
We know, Nature works tirelessly on our behalf providing us with our essential needs – water, food, clean air, medicine, and materials for shelter. But the way we produce, consume and waste food is putting unnecessary pressure on natural resources, the environment and climate. It’s time for us to learn from nature and work with it, not against it.
Agri-food systems are like ecosystems in that everything is connected but we need to make choices and actions that help them develop a better synergy. People from all walks of life, their livelihoods, our health and that of our planet need nurturing to thrive.
Trees clean our air and cool our cities, but they also work as a community. They communicate with their roots and share resources, like nutrients for food. As a global community, we each have a role to play in the transformation of agri-food systems – from governments to private companies, farmers, civil society, academia, and all individuals, including youth! Together we can empower each and every element of our agri-food systems to collaborate more fairly, sustainably and inclusively from farm to table, and beyond.
We all need to learn from nature by acting with nature. What we can do?
Billions of consumers worldwide need to shift old consumption patterns in order to transform food systems for the better. Change is in our hands. We can work with nature and influence what the market provides by opting for nutritious and environmentally and socially responsible products. This puts pressure on governments to design greener, more sustainable policies, promote better production, while motivating greater investment in sustainable healthy diets. Here’s where you can start.