Agricultural Livelihoods

Five ways to transform our food system into a restorative system that benefits both people and the planet

Field workers plant new trees and take care of newly planted ones at the Cinta Raja Rainforest Restoration Site in Gunung Leuser National Park (GNLP) in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Food is essential for our survival, a fundamental requirement of life and the provider of strength, vitality and energy. Food is also the keeper of our cultural traditions and indispensable to our social lives – think of any celebration and it will involve food!

However, our relationship with food is dangerously imbalanced. Although we produce enough food, nearly 1 in 10 people still don’t have enough to eat and 3 billion cannot afford a healthy diet. At the same time, we waste one third of all food produced, along with the natural resources that went into its production.

Our food and agricultural systems are stretching planetary boundaries beyond their limits. By valuing quantity over quality and driving farmers to produce monocrops for low prices, we are using up natural resources needed for sustained production and degrading the land, leading to climate change and extreme weather events.

As the coronavirus crisis unfolded, we started to understand how fragile our food systems are. We saw news stories of food destroyed, milk dumped and crops rotting in the fields, while consumers faced empty shelves. Our complicated global supply chains couldn’t adapt fast enough to the changing realities.

To mend our damaged relationship with food, there are critical questions we need to answer: how do we produce sufficient food that’s healthy for the people who produce it and the people who eat it? How do we ensure our food systems are fair, resilient and equitable? How can we feed our growing global population and protect our planet for generations to come?

We have a choice.

We can continue to grow our food systems in a linear, exploitative and extractive way or we can move to a system that promotes biodiversity, regeneration, nutritious food, equity and healthy people.

We believe the decision is clear: we must choose to work with the planet, not against it, for the benefit of the many, by following these principles:

  1. Harness the regenerative power of our Earth

This is key to overcoming the biggest challenges of our time: a degrading environment, loss of biodiversity and climate change. Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality, nutrient-dense food while improving, rather than degrading the land, and supporting productive farms and healthy communities and economies. This helps safeguard farmers’ livelihoods so they can grow the food we need now and in the future.

  • Build stronger local and circular food systems

Building stronger local and circular food systems help to keep valuable natural resources, minerals and nutrients in the loop. Circular agri-businesses not only provide excellent environmental solutions, they also create jobs and reduce countries’ dependency on imports.

For example, waste water can be treated to extract important finite minerals like phosphates. Food loss and waste can be composted so valuable nutrients return to the soil instead of being thrown away. And organic farm waste can be used for bioenergy to power homes and agri-businesses. New, nature-based technologies—like black soldier fly composting of waste—can generate multiple useful products like compost, fertiliser and animal feed.

  • Give farmers a voice and support their planet-positive choices

As the world’s population continues to grow, more people than ever will depend upon farmers for food. We must empower farmers to drive solutions and be at the forefront of a global regenerative revolution by being an integral part of policy discussions. So that they can help build the ecosystem of products and services that are locally relevant and reduce dependency on patented and/or chemical inputs.

  • Move from low cost to true cost

Paradoxically, cheap food is expensive for people and the planet and keeps us locked into an unsustainable food system that is costing the global economy significant amounts of money. The current price of food does not factor in the health bill generated by unhealthy diets or the cost of land degradation and biodiversity loss. Further, low wages for farmers make agriculture an unpredictable and often unsafe sector. To get back on track, we need greater consumer awareness and public policies that value nutritious diets, a healthy environment and farmers who practice regenerative agriculture.

  • Foster radical collaboration

Although we’re hopeful for the future, we’re quickly running out of time. We urgently need to remove the barriers that prevent us from transforming the way we produce and consume food.  This involves changing mindsets, trying new things and learning fast. Maybe we don’t know all the answers yet, but we do know that business-as-usual is the problem. We must change course and do it now. This is only possible through collaboration between farmers, consumers, funders, governments, businesses and NGOs.

Together, we can work towards a food system that not only feeds us but also celebrates life – one that nurtures people, adds colour and flavour to our plates and palates, and, most importantly, ensures a future for ourselves on this planet. 

Originally published here: 5 ways to transform our food systems and save the planet | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

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