In an era marked by volatility and uncertainty, the world prepares to feed a growing population with a declining resource base. There is certainly enough data to confirm the above statement, which serves as the opening to the Sustainable Food System policy paper shared at the recent Business 20 Summit held in Buenos Aires. In addition to the data, though, events happening every day in our own lives highlight the urgent need for us to transform our current food systems to sustainable ones.
In my opinion, there are five preeminent challenges facing the global food system, which both policymakers and business must address:
- Eradicating all forms of malnutrition;
- Ensuring environmental conservation, as well as mitigation of and adaption to climate change;
- Supporting technological development and adoption with a particular focus on small and medium enterprises;
- Progressively eliminating barriers to global food trade; and
- Reducing food loss and waste.
Policies to address malnutrition should focus on a healthy lifestyle and a balanced, diverse diet. Thoughtfully educating consumers from an early age, providing access to information through food product labelling, and designing food-based dietary guidelines that consider national and local context should be critical areas of focus. Complementing these tactics with investments in local food value chains – especially in developing countries, where investment enhances accessibility and provides better employment opportunities – will go a long way in achieving food security.
To continue feeding future generations, local, regional, and global food value chains must broadly adopt sustainable practices to mitigate, adapt to, and increase resilience to climate change. To do this, some methods already exist, such as soil conversation and carbon sequestration, but scaling these up remains an area of opportunity. Creating economic incentives to encourage sustainable use of resources, together with encouraging adoption of risk management strategies for small and medium enterprises, will allow for faster adoption and transition to sustainable practices.
The development of innovative technology to increase sustainable food production remains an area with enormous potential. Innovations to improve water efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions already exist; an immense challenge is in facilitating technology adoption in developing countries that suffer from low productivity. Urban agriculture systems and investments in infrastructure, ranging from roads to markets to telecommunications, will accelerate the transformation towards a more sustainable system.
Global food trade has a critical role to play in feeding the world: by matching food supply to global demand, efficient markets ensure that food is accessible and affordable for all. Effort to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers towards a multilateral trading system that is open, non-discriminatory, and rule-based is necessary.
Finally, minimizing food loss and waste is a prerequisite to achieving a more sustainable food system; no system can be considered functional if much of what is produces is never consumed by the intended audience. Creating self-sustaining, circular economies requires immense innovation and investment, including implementation of adequate and adaptable frameworks for producers, consumers, policymakers, and business in rural and urban areas alike. Education for consumers should be a particular area of focus, as consumer awareness of this worldwide issue has been shown to dramatically decrease food waste and loss.
In conclusion, policymakers and business should focus on policies, incentives, and capabilities to create economic benefit systems that incentivize the efficient use of resources, finance the creation and adoptions of new technologies, invest in rural productive infrastructure, and educate consumers to build responsible consumption habits.