Fostering sustainable agri-food systems
Covid-19 and climate change have devastated the global food system. Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that an emergency can arise unexpectedly and make the food supply chain in South Asia extremely risky. In this situation, it is necessary to make agriculture sustainable and build a healthy food system. To fix the fragile agro-food system, concerted action is needed to ensure that everyone has adequate safe and nutritious food, and that the entire food supply chain becomes more sustainable and inclusive. Sustainable and inclusive agro-food management is needed to ensure food and nutrition security.
A sustainable agri-food system is a system in which a wide variety of adequate, nutritious and safe food is available to everyone at affordable prices and no one suffers from hunger or malnutrition. Sustainable agri-food systems ensure food security and nutrition for all, taking into account economic, social and environmental issues for the next generation. These lead to better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life, so that no one is left behind.
According to the FAO, 2021, more than 3 billion people (about 40 percent of the world's population) are unable to eat a healthy diet. The world's agro-food system currently employs 1 billion people, more than any other sector. Despite many challenges, including poverty and lack of money, training and technology, and access to resources, smallholder farmers produce more than 33 percent of the world's food.
World's food system is currently responsible for more than 33 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Inadequate harvesting, handling, storage and transit account for 14 percent of the world's food wastage and 18 percent at the consumer level. 10 percent of people are exposed to unsafe food supplies contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals.
Everyone, including civil society, farmers, government and institutions, the private sector, researchers / academia and the media, can play a role in building a sustainable food system. For example: Civil society has the power to bring together multiple agents of change, from marginalized to policy makers.
Combining campaigns, events and networks can help to be active in the political process. The views of small farmers, tribal's, women, youth and marginalized groups can be taken into consideration. To make the food system sustainable, civil society can advocate for fair, legitimate and transparent government policy-making and decision-making.
The farmer can act as the guardian of natural resources as the root of the transformation of the agro-food system. Innovative technology, training, finance, incentives and social protection can help farmers provide sustainable healthy food locally and globally. Agricultural extension services or farmers can use natural resources more efficiently by being attached to field schools. Integrated crop-livestock-agro-forestry-fisheries system as well as integrated farming system can be developed. It will have economic benefits.
It is important for farmers to unite to bring about change in the food system. Small farmers can empower themselves by forming farmers' organizations or joining cooperatives. There are opportunities to access technical support, training or funding, and access to digital technology. The organization can speak to the media to promote change in the food system. The agro-food system can be strengthened by adopting extreme and climate-smart agricultural systems.
Governments and institutions can build sustainable agri-food systems through improved policies or the establishment of laws, investments and good governance. They can bring about change through dialogue with various stakeholders. New rules and initiatives are needed to increase nutrition awareness, education and culinary skills. Such food packaging should have vitality.
About 14% of the world's food is wasted before it reaches the market. The government can invest in storage facilities, roads, markets and market information systems to reduce food wastage after harvest. More attention should be paid to research for evidence-based decision making. It can enable every component of the agro-food system to collaborate more efficiently, sustainably and inclusively from farm to table and beyond.
Government's efforts to implement voluntary guidelines on food security and nutrition issued by the World Food Security Committee (CFS) should be supported. Strong coordination needs to be built for a sustainable food system through multiple partnership process (MSP).
Private companies need to focus on public health. They can help produce or promote nutritious and safe food for everyone at affordable prices, which will contribute to a sustainable healthy diet. To reduce the environmental impact of the food system, food manufacturing companies can assist farmers in producing food products in a sustainable manner.
Food preparation and catering industries can improve food safety and quality. Food companies can provide product and nutrition information to customers. Awareness can be raised on TV, radio, billboards, magazines and digital media. The campaign should focus on nutritious and sustainably produced foods, highlighting the benefits of a healthy diet for all.
Hotel, catering and hospitality sectors have a big role to play in reducing food wastage. They can create a win-win situation in everything from food management to production, residues and waste management. Women and youth are important actors in agriculture and food security worldwide. They need better access to training and social security.
It is essential for increasing the efficiency and resilience of the agri-food systems. The plan needs to be developed by identifying the driver of change. Higher education and research institutions need to increase the practice of science and evidence-based knowledge. It will help teach techniques to mitigate, adapt and make sustainable food systems more resilient. This knowledge accelerates the government's policy and decision-making process in dealing with crises. They can provide knowledge about agro-food systems and strategies to transform them at different stages.
Government should invest in improved regional market infrastructure at the local, regional and national levels and support a more diversified and resilient distribution system, including shorter supply chains that could be reduced cost and wastage of agri-food.
Dr M Jamal Uddin is an agricultural economist, former consultant, FAO and UNDP; senior scientist, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI)