Food system transformation: it’s everyone’s business

Photo by Rob Mulder on Unsplash.

Our global food systems are in urgent need of transformation for the sake of people and nature, and if we are to succeed, businesses have a crucial role to play.

The recently published GEO for Business Brief 3, ‘The role of business in transforming food systems’, sets out the case for food system transformation, and clear actions for businesses at all scales to make a positive contribution.

A broken global food system

Access to food underpins the health and wellbeing of all people, everywhere. However, our current global food systems have developed unsustainably, contributing to significant social and environmental issues.

While many people around the world do not have enough food to eat, a third of all food produced globally is still lost or wasted at some point along the value chain, generating 8–10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Unsustainable practices in our food systems contribute to the twin climate and nature crises; they are responsible for 70 per cent of biodiversity loss and generating between 21 and 37 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In turn, the climate and nature crises also make our food systems more unstable. The resilience of food systems is under growing threat from soil degradation, pollinator loss, water scarcity, extreme weather events and increased susceptibility to loss from pests and disease.

Transforming our food systems is key to both securing a better future for nature, and achieving more equitable lives for people worldwide.

Nature-positive food systems

In order to succeed in creating more sustainable food systems that can feed the world and are also based on nature-positive models, action is needed across all of society, including by business.

The Brief’s authors identify key steps for businesses to take:

  • Collaborate with partners across your supply chain and within the landscapes from which you source and operate, to accelerate the application of regenerative practices.
  • Reformulate existing product portfolios and develop new product offerings to support a more balanced, plant-rich diet with a lower environmental footprint.
  • Adopt a company-wide target in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3, measure and report food waste using the Food Waste Index, and develop and implement a strategy that targets food loss and waste hotspots, works collaboratively across supply chains to eliminate rather than shift waste, and empowers end consumers to reduce waste at home.

Bringing benefits to businesses

The third GEO for Business brief is clear that: “Businesses have a crucial role to play in enabling this transformation, immaterial of their size or role within a food system. They can realize significant opportunities to deliver business value by making their supply chains and business models more resilient, protecting themselves from both chronic environmental change and systemic shocks, as well as cutting costs by reducing food loss and waste.”

The UN Food Systems Summit on September 23 will set the stage for global food systems transformation, which is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Now and over the coming years, action is needed across all of society to enable fairer and more sustainable access to food, including through achieving the goals and targets of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

Speaking at the launch of the GEO for Business brief last week, Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said: “Businesses embracing sustainable practices that work with nature, reduce waste, and encourage circularity will be heralded as the pioneers of the new economy.”

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