The relationship between food systems and environmental health is a key topic in current discussions about the transition to a more sustainable future. Today’s food production methods and food consumption are already putting our natural resources under pressure and generating significant greenhouse gas emissions, thus intensifying climate change. This situation is set to become even more acute as a result of population growth. Against this backdrop, there is an urgent and indisputable need to transition to a regenerative or “nature-positive” food system that has the potential to deliver food security for billions of people worldwide while protecting our planet.
Our current food system is capable of feeding the vast majority of the world’s population. Thanks to a century of innovation, crop yields have reached unprecedented levels and significant progress has been made in reducing hunger and malnutrition around the globe. However, this progress has come at a high cost: Food production is today a major contributor to climate change and is also harming the natural world’s ability to recover by degrading land productivity, water resources and soil health.
At the same time, rising temperatures and the extreme weather events associated with climate change are now making it harder to grow food – impacting yields and reducing the nutritional value of the food produced, not to mention harming aquatic systems and leading to the increased prevalence of pests and disease. This “vicious cycle” in which food production and climate change are locked represents a real threat to food security. Together, these developments underscore the need to fundamentally alter the way food is produced, processed and consumed in today’s world. Further, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that by 2050, it will be necessary to produce about 50% more food based on the existing food system in order to feed a larger global population of around 10 billion.
From nature-negative to nature-positive
To feed the world sustainably, today’s “net nature-negative” food system must become “nature-positive” – ensuring the non-depleting and non-destructive use of natural resources based on a regenerative system of agriculture. Food production within a regenerative food system enhances land and water management, safeguards biodiversity, and restores the health of soils and forests, while helping to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Advances in technology, including AI, robotics biologicals and genetics, can also boost the efficiency of food systems and thus support the transition to a regenerative food system.
Minimising food loss and waste, particularly within households, is another important action point, given the scale of this problem at present. Progress in this area could help to reduce the amount of additional food that needs to be produced and thus help to lower greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Crucially, consumers can make a key contribution to this goal by changing their dietary preferences and avoiding overconsumption.
Food for thought
Balancing the rising demands of a growing global population with the urgent need to drive environmental sustainability is a massive challenge. However, the tools for change − ranging from regenerative agricultural practices to sustainable consumer habits − can provide tangible solutions to help increase food security and drive environmental sustainability, benefiting people and the planet.