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Rethinking Food Systems – Sustainability and Production

sustainability food systems productionThe processes underlying unsustainable environmental, economic, and social systems derive to a certain extent from our methods of food production. Recent scientific research has clearly shown that a new approach to our modern food systems is urgently needed and a focus on increasing production to combat global hunger and poverty does not solve the problem: Promoting production efficiency in many cases adds to ecological stress rather than reducing it. A new approach has to be socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.

Today we, the consumers, are shifting to more mindful ways of buying and eating food. Additionally in this age of growing uncertainty, food security is threatened by many factors such as climate change, rapid urbanization, an ageing population and unexpected events (for instance, the ongoing Covid-19 crisis). Many are turning to their own food production in an attempt to decrease -even reverse- the human environmental impact on our planet. Yet without the industrial food production machine catching up with these new needs and behaviours, true sustainability in the world’s food systems will never be achieved. 

Therefore, building sustainable and ethical food systems has become an essential priority.  The food industry has to redirect existing food systems and their policies towards better-adjusted and improved goals. In 2015, the United Nations defined the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are a total of 17 interlinked goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all".

These goals are: - Reduce poverty - Zero hunger - Good health (good health starts with nutrition) - Education - Gender equality (women produce half of the food, but have much less access to the land. See: Food Justice) - Reduced inequalities and access to agricultural land - Clean water - Clean and affordable energy - Work and economic growth - Innovations for industry and infrastructure - Sustainable cities and communities - Responsible consumption and production - Responding to climate change - Sustaining life below water - Sustaining life on land - Peace and justice (Ending hunger will contribute greatly to peace and stability) - Partnerships for these goals.

The official implementation of the SDGs was started worldwide in 2016. This process is called "Localizing the SDGs". Governments across the world must “translate the goals into national legislation, develop a plan of action, and establish budgets.” As coordination at an international level is crucial to these goals, governments must be open to partnerships. Regulating and improving food production and delivery should be a priority in combating environmental destruction and societal injustices. 

Different regions around the world face food system challenges at different levels of intensity. As a result, the types of policy and interventions rely on a detailed understanding of the root causes in their local context of unfavourable food system outcomes. Sustainable agricultural approaches need to be planned and implemented depending on regional circumstances and needs. For that reason, local governments need to be in touch with the people’s needs and the land’s resources, and devise certain policies, investments, measures, activities and interventions in order to develop sustainable and environmentally sound food systems. 

Growing food in our gardens and backyards truly is a great place to start. But to combat climate change and to leave a better world to our children, we need to begin to hold the industry accountable. Changing our relationship to food and the land it is grown on, changing our buying habits and supporting sustainable and smaller producers, as well as actively participating in local politics puts pressure on industrial producers. Rethinking our food system starts on a local level.

FAO (2018), "Sustainable food systems. Concept and Framework" Rome. Accessed 2 December 2020
FAO - Sustainable Development Goals. Accessed 2 December 2020 
United Nations (2017), Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 6 July 2017 (Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development). Accessed 2 December 2020
FAO and WHO (2019), “Sustainable healthy diets – Guiding principles.” Rome.  Accessed 1 December 2020
van Berkum, S. & Dengerink, J. (2019), “Transition to sustainable food systems: the Dutch circular approach providing solutions to global challenges.” Wageningen, Wageningen Economic Research, Report 2019-082, 40 pp.
Tendall, D. & Joerin, J. & Kopainsky, Birgit & Edwards, Peter & Shreck, A. & Le, Quang Bao & Krütli, Pius & Grant, M. & Six, J.. (2015), “Food system resilience: Defining the concept.” Global Food Security Volume 6, October 2015, p.17-23
Allen, T. & Prosperi, P. (2016), “Modeling Sustainable Food Systems.”Environmental Management 57, p. 956–975 


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Category: Sustainability
Hashtag: Food Production System, Sustainability
Date: December 2, 2020

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