How to safely feed a growing population, meet climate goals and reduce poverty
For a long time, food security, i.e., access to sufficient food, was on the right track. In the past number of years, progress has turned in the opposite direction, propelled, not least, by the pandemic, which, according to the UN, risks reversing that development by 25 years.
Our food systems interact with human and societal health at least as much as it does with planetary health, at times – as during the pandemic – notably more. Malfunctions, violations, and leakage from the global food system to our living environment harm humans in numerous ways, not only through food-related disease provoked by our continuous infringement on natural habitats. Food system flaws also undermine and sometimes disrupt societal structures, even leading to failed states. Drought, resulting in water and food scarcity, is a significant driver of conflict, migration, and even war.
Two of the UN’s SDGs, “Zero Hunger by 2030” and “Good Health and Well-Being”, seem far from attainable in this decade. The pandemic’s direct effects on mortality, combined with indirect effects such as under-treatment of other diseases and increased infant mortality, have lowered global life expectancy by several years.
Read more about the Sustainable Development Goals
The pandemic has also focused our attention on food safety. Although the source of SARS-CoV-2 infection – the infectious agent that caused the COVID-19 pandemic – is not fully understood, it’s most likely linked to food markets in Asia, where the virus moved from bats to humans via one or more intermediate host animals. Zoonotic diseases – transmitted between animal species and humans – have become increasingly common. Many of them, such as swine and bird flu, are directly linked to the food system and, above all, large-scale animal husbandry. Others, such as COVID-19, are caused by encroachment on wild habitats, which have made it easier for viruses to transmit to humans. 75% of all infectious diseases spread to humans from animals, and 50% come from the agricultural sector.
According to the Global Footprint Network, the pandemic did nothing to reduce the ecological footprint that our food system generates. Despite lockdowns and stalled productivity, it actually grew along with food waste, food insecurity, and malnutrition.
Keeping a growing world population alive and well-nourished – without destroying the planet. That’s our challenge – and the fundamental existential issue. We must save the Food Planet so that it can continue to feed us all safely and sustainably.