In an event yesterday, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released the report Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Foundation of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems. Launched at Rio+20, the report challenges the business as usual methods for growing food, and argues for a more integrated and holistic approach in transitioning to a Green Economy.
Intended to inform Heads of State and governments at Rio+20, the report outlines problems and solutions to reaching ’sustainable food systems’, focusing on how these systems relate to the Green Economy and sustainable development. The report discusses the ecological underpinnings of different food systems, such as agriculture and fisheries and aquaculture, and how they are being undermined. UNEP has produced this report with contributions from other Landscapes Initiative Co-Organizers including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), EcoAgriculture Partners, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Resources Institute (WRI).
Food security has been defined by the World Food Summit as the state in which “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Adding sustainability to this definition of food security means taking both a short and long term perspective in terms of the people and the ecological landscapes involved. The idea that people and ecosystems are separate entities has progressed too far, and this report calls for all stakeholders involved to re-visit the human-environment relationship, and make plans to move forward with a framework for sustainability.
However, growing competition over and degradation of water, land, and other natural resources threaten the ecological foundation of agriculture. Population and income growth in the developing world, along with changing lifestyles and diets, further exacerbate these threats. In light of these obstacles, the report has proposed a solution that includes an enhanced Green Economy, a vision promoted throughout the Rio+20 activities. It also presents a strategy for sustainable implementation at both a farm scale and a landscape scale. The proposed Green Economy would re-evaluate the food supply chain from beginning to end, and encourage introducing life cycle analyses, enhanced demand for certification, enlightened, sustainable purchasing policies and collaboration between all stakeholders. Eliminating food waste and increasing efficiency of production and storage is also a huge necessity.
Chapter five in particular, addresses how sustainable agricultural production systems can be part of the solution. It calls for integrating farm scale solutions with a landscape level approach, so that farming and non-farming activities work together on a large scale. Increasing investment in agriculture and rewarding farmers for ecosystem stewardship are two components outlined for building a Green Economy. It’s no small task proposed by the experts authoring the report, but such a paradigm shift is critical to ‘avoiding future famines.’
Access the full report and summary online.