Washington, DC - October 16 is World Food Day. It can be a day of action, dedicated to tackling hunger and ensuring food security and nutrient-dense diets for everyone. Food should nourish and nurture people, society, and the planet, but in so many ways, the food system is broken.
“Not only have habits changed, but also foods. When was the last time you consumed a potato with the flavor, color, and smell of potatoes? We are not just losing food, we are losing food quality,” says agricultural engineer Dr. Walter Pengue.
Across the world, decreasing soil quality is stripping food of its nutrients: 33 percent of the Earth’s land surface is moderately to highly affected by some type of soil degradation. Food has also become the main driver of human health costs—while almost one-third of all people are undernourished and 815 million people still go to bed hungry, close to 30 percent of all people are overweight or obese and close to 10 percent of all people are actually obese.
And throughout the food system, businesses, farms, and consumers are losing perfectly edible food—approximately one-third of all food produced is thrown away. If food waste were a country, it would rank as the third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the United States.
How do we start on the path towards a more sustainable food system? The answer is in the connections between all these systems.
“The current economic systems do not include or reward the value of social, human, and natural capital in agriculture and food systems. This often leads to the promotion of practices that are harmful to farming, the environment, and people,” says agricultural scientist Dr. Harpinder Sandhu, who helped develop and write a recent report by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture & Food, or TEEBAgriFood.
TEEBAgriFood’s new report presents a holistic new framework, which looks at the full range of impacts of the food value chain from a systems perspective—from farm to fork to disposal.
This evaluation framework can support policymakers, researchers, and businesses in making better-informed decisions—decisions that will improve public health, regenerate soils, and nurture people and the planet. TEEBAgriFood recently won the World Future Council’s 2018 Future Policy Award in Vision for this comprehensive framework.
“The only measure of success in current agriculture systems is higher productivity. But such a narrow focus on productivity has left our freshwaters more polluted as there are increases in surface run-offs from farms, loss of biodiversity, degradation of soil, and greenhouse gas emissions,” Dr. Harpinder continues. “This focus also leads to poor health for the farm workers, and consumers as well.”
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) is applying the framework to two different corn systems in the Mississippi Valley—one organic and one conventional—to detect the positive and negative environmental, biodiversity, and climate impacts of both those systems.