10 things you need to know about food systems

19 August 2014

One of the biggest issues facing our world is how to feed people now, and in the future. Here are 10 things you need to know about the global food system, based on an article from The Guardian.

1. There’s enough food for everyone

The UN reports that there is enough food on the planet for everyone to eat a healthy and nutritious diet, and for everyone to consume the recommended 2,800 kcals (around 12,000 kJ) per day. However, inequality and poor distribution are prohibiting everyone from getting what they need. The global food system is deeply inequitable: 1.5 billion people are overweight or obese, while 842 million go hungry.

2. Price volatility

Food prices move dramatically over short periods of time, but production does not. This shows that food price is not based on food production, but is determined by markets.

3. One third of food produced is wasted

In the developed world, most of the waste comes from the consumer, due to food going bad in stores, or at home after it is purchased. In the developing world, most waste comes from the producer, due to lack of efficient storage and processing systems.

4. Food for fuel

Not all food is grown for eating. Food is increasingly being used for fuel – in the US 40% of corn produced is used for ethanol. 

5. Land buy ups

The landscape of ownership is changing. Global companies are buying up land in the global south. There is debate about whether this is an effort to give direct foreign investment to these regions, or if it is to help the rich get richer by exploiting the land

6. Corporate control

A small number of corporations control food trade, all the way from seed production to poultry research. Four companies produce more than 58% of the world’s seeds; four global firms produce more than 60% of the agrochemicals farmers use.

7. Agricultural policies affect what you eat

Maize subsidies in the US, starting in the 1970s, have led to the over-production of corn. Farmers fed this extra to cows, pigs and chickens, driving down prices and creating conditions for intensive livestock production. Around this time it was also discovered that the sugars from corn could be turned into high-fructose corn syrup, which gave rise to the junk food industry.

8. Environmental impacts

The way we produce food is impacting upon our environment. Agriculture causes 75% of deforestation and emits more non-CO2 greenhouse gases than any other sector. Globally, marine resources are depleted by overfishing. 

9. Adapting to climate change

Climate change could reduce crop production by 2% every decade in the next 100 years. This will have more of an effect on poorer regions. Whether these crop reductions happen will depend on farmers’ ability to adapt to changing weather conditions.

10. Increased demand for food

Farmers will need to produce 50% more by 2050 in order to meet global population growth. This will be particularly difficult since climate change and high energy prices make sustaining current levels of production more challenging.

It sounds pretty grim, but these obstacles give rise to opportunity.

Evan Fraser from Feeding Nine Billion has identified four ways we can combat the issues of food security:

    1. We need to start using currently-available food production technology to develop locally appropriate solutions. If done correctly, we could meet the 50% production boost we need by 2050.
    2. Food distribution systems need to be improved. This means cutting back on food used for energy and cattle feed, lowering food waste, and increasing international aid organisations’ access to food storage in times of crisis.
    3. Local agriculture needs to be better supported. Community agriculture programmes increase resilience during times of low global yields, and also build communities. 
    4. We need better government regulations and policy on sustainable farming. Governments need to start implementing aggressive sustainable farming practices now in order to ensure food security in the future.

One of SBN’s new work streams is Restoring NZ’s Food System. We are working with a variety of stakeholders to figure out the challenges and opportunities that exist within the current food system. If you’d like to find out more or get involved please contact us.

We have recently completed our nationwide roadshow – The BIG Think – so that we can understand what’s happening with NZ’s food systems, as well as our other work streams. The results of these sessions will be used to create a food system map and an opportunity report, which will be developed at Project NZ, our 2014 Conference on 17-18 September.

We’re also hosting the Good Food Feast, a very special dining event where people will come together to dream up creative solutions to the issues surrounding our food system. Click here to find out more about the Auckland event on 17 September, and keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming Wellington event announcement.

Click here to view a great infographic video about Food Security.

Visit Feeding 9 Billion to find out more about ways to combat issues of food security.

Click here to read the article in The Guardian about 10 things you need to know about the global food system.

Food infographic