Food System Sustainability: Need For Change In Food Systems

by | Jul 7, 2023 | Sustainability

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Food system sustainability refers to the ability of the food system to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It encompasses various aspects, including environmental, social, and economic considerations. Achieving a sustainable food system is crucial for ensuring food security, reducing the impact on the environment, promoting social equity, and fostering economic viability.

The structural transformation of the food system towards a sustainable and resilient state is crucial for both the preservation of ecosystems and the long-term well-being of the human population. The need of the hour is the change in food systems. Let’s see why?

Why Is Sustainability Important In Food Systems?

The current setup of the food system is at the heart of a confluence of global issues, ranging from environmental degradation to poverty. It is not possible to simply extrapolate existing patterns in production and consumption to achieve the increase in food production required to satisfy the predicted demands of the near future. Expansion and intensification, recent historical tendencies, will erode the basic resource foundation upon which the food system itself is based.

We urgently need a sustainable overhaul change in the food system. Governments must adopt a coordinated policy strategy to do this, based on a thorough comprehension of the connections between food production, environmental effects, and a healthy diet. Read more about the food system sustainability in this article.

It is crucial to reduce food loss and waste so that more of what is produced with limited resources makes it to our plates. Presently, 25% of the world’s freshwater supply is used to grow food that is never consumed, and a third of all food produced globally is lost or squandered along the distribution process or by consumers.

Historic Pathway of Current Food System

Food System Sustainability: Need Of Time Is Change In Food Systems

Since the end of World War II, there has been a major increase in global food and agricultural production, which has been fuelled by a mix of population and economic development, as well as technical and cultural changes in production methods. The globe has experienced an overall rise in food demand as a result of population growth, economic growth, and urbanization, along with a change in dietary preferences toward more resource-intensive foods.

The Green Revolution significantly influenced the dominant ideas in contemporary agricultural practice and helped create intensive agricultural production techniques on a worldwide scale. Since the 1950s, global yields have continually grown; now, more food is produced per person than ever before. Although the Green Revolution is widely credited with preventing anticipated widespread food shortages in the post-WWII era, it has also been criticized for accelerating ecological degradation, unsustainable resource consumption, and entrenching dependence on non-renewable resources like fossil fuels.

The large-scale behavioral tendencies that are ingrained in the food system include intensification, consolidation, and specialization. Intensive practices dominate the whole food system, and a few numbers of players in the production, processing, and retail industries hold the majority of the system’s power and have a significant impact on policy-making. More powerful nations frequently take advantage of trade agreement loopholes, which causes unfair competition for underdeveloped countries, ultimately leading to manufacturing reliance and compromising local food security.

How the Current Food System is Impacting the Environment

Currently, agriculture accounts for around 50% of the planet’s plant-habitable area, 69% of the freshwater that is harvested, and 25% to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, together with the rest of the food system. Over 90% of the world’s marine fisheries have collapsed or been completely exploited as a result of the growth of commercial fishing fleets and an increase in the demand for seafood on a worldwide scale. An increase in demand for land-based animal products mostly causes tropical deforestation. The food system is the major cause of biodiversity loss through both direct and indirect effects.

Since the agri-food industry makes up the majority of global economic activity, poverty is closely related to it. Agriculture employs half of all workers on the planet. The vast majority of the world’s poorest people depend on their farms and fishing for a living. Small farmers and fishermen are trapped in poverty cycles all over the world because they lack access to political representation, economic and social infrastructure, jobs, and education. Many people are underpaid, forced to work in appalling circumstances, or unable to obtain enough food that is both inexpensive and of acceptable quality. The biggest cause of food insecurity and the biggest danger to food producers worldwide is poverty.

Alternate and Sustainable Pathway of the Current Food System

The route of expansion and intensification is not always the best option for meeting the population’s food needs in 2050. More people are overweight than undernourished, over 30% of food is now wasted, land resources are progressively going to non-food purposes, and nutrient-dense diets may be produced with a fraction of the average resource consumption that it currently necessitates. All of these structural flaws offer chances to change the food system such that it completely satisfies human requirements while abiding by important constraints.

A movement in opposition to intense, traditional extractive and agricultural practices is slowly taking shape. These methods are typically understudied and still represent a small portion of the world’s agricultural output. Innovations in the food system are headed in a minor but hopeful new direction thanks to new practices and food processing methods. If fundamental adjustments are made to our production and consumption practices, we can produce enough food, even for a much bigger population.

We must take into account the systemic character of the system’s behaviors and effects in order to successfully transition to a sustainable and resilient food system. At all costs, it is best to prevent severe, permanent, and non-linear effects from crossing important systemic tipping thresholds. These effects range from the preservation of non-renewable resources and soils to the mitigation of climate change, the preservation of culture and history, and the protection of human health. Repercussions will continue to happen if we do not address and alter the fundamental core issues that result in numerous impacts. We must integrate systems thinking into the food policy to guarantee that solutions are broad and flexible.

International governance has to be more robust and collaborative in order to make choices on food policy for the global food system. A structural constraint of governance and enforcement is the root cause of many effects on the food system today.

How Can We Make Food System Sustainable?

Achieving food system sustainability requires a multi-faceted approach involving various stakeholders. We are highlighting some strategies and actions that can contribute to achieving a sustainable food system:

1. Promote Sustainable Farming Practices: Farmers should be encouraged to adopt sustainable agricultural practices such as organic farming, agroforestry, and integrated pest management. These practices reduce the reliance on synthetic inputs, promote soil health, conserve water, and minimize environmental impacts.

2. Support Small-Scale Farmers: Small-scale farmers play a vital role in food production and rural livelihoods. Providing them with access to resources, training, financial support, and market opportunities can enhance their productivity and sustainability.

3. Enhance Water and Energy Efficiency: Promoting efficient irrigation systems, rainwater harvesting, and water-saving techniques in agriculture. Encourage the use of renewable energy sources and energy-efficient technologies in farming operations and food processing.

4. Reduce Food Loss and Waste: Implementing measures to minimize food loss and waste throughout the supply chain. This includes improved storage and transportation infrastructure, better packaging, redistribution of surplus food, and consumer education on responsible consumption.

5. Preserve Biodiversity and Ecosystems: We should protect and restore natural habitats, wildlife corridors, and biodiversity-rich areas. Promote sustainable land management practices that conserve ecosystems, such as maintaining buffer zones, practicing reforestation, and preserving wetlands.

6. Support Local and Regional Food Systems: Encouraging the development of local and regional food systems that reduce the distance between producers and consumers. This helps minimize the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation, supports local economies, and fosters community engagement.

7. Promote Sustainable Seafood Practices: Encouraging sustainable fishing practices, responsible aquaculture, and the protection of marine ecosystems. Support certification schemes such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) to ensure sustainable seafood production.

8. Foster Research and Innovation: Investing in research and development to advance sustainable agriculture, food processing, and distribution technologies. This includes innovations in precision farming, alternative protein sources, food preservation techniques, and waste management.

9. Advocate for Policy Changes: Encouraging governments to develop and enforce policies that promote sustainability in the food system. This includes incentivizing sustainable practices, implementing regulations on agrochemical use, supporting small-scale farmers, and integrating sustainability into food and agricultural policies.

10. Educate and Raise Awareness: Promoting consumer education and awareness about sustainable food choices, nutrition, and the environmental impact of food production. Empower consumers to make informed decisions that support sustainable farming practices and reduce food waste.

To Conclude

It’s important to note that achieving a sustainable food system requires collaborative efforts among governments, businesses, farmers, consumers, and civil society organizations. By working together and implementing these strategies, we can move toward a more sustainable and resilient food system.

To achieve food system sustainability, it is crucial to integrate these elements and implement coordinated actions at local, regional, and global levels. This involves policy reforms, research and innovation, education and awareness campaigns, and changes in consumer behavior.

Also Read: The Hidden Cost of Food Waste


  • Dr. Elizabeth Green

    With over two decades of experience in sustainability, Dr. Elizabeth Green has established herself as a leading voice in the field. Hailing from the USA, her career spans a remarkable journey of environmental advocacy, policy development, and educational initiatives focused on sustainable practices. Dr. Green is actively involved in several global sustainability initiatives and continues to inspire through her writing, speaking engagements, and mentorship programs.


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