Many of us are already aware of the many hurdles facing the global food system as it seeks to feed 10 billion people by 2050 while harnessing fewer resources and ensuring minimal land use. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has made the food and agriculture sector’s challenges even more apparent as more citizens confront food insecurity.
But even if a crisis can lead to an opportunity, the companies driving the global food system have a huge learning curve coming in the years ahead if we as a society are going to produce enough food without mowing down the planet’s landscape. Human rights activists have long been concerned about the impact the quest for more farmland has had on Indigenous and poorer communities. Emissions linked to agriculture are another culprit food and beverage companies need to confront in the coming years.
Concern should also be focused on natural habitats, according to a study released this week in the journal Nature. The group of researchers who teamed together on this article concluded we can expect to see millions of square miles of lands rich in biodiversity disappear by 2050.
After evaluating the habitats of almost 20,000 species, researchers found almost 90 percent could see the land on which they roam become lost to farmland by mid-century; almost 1,300 could lose more than 25 percent of their natural habitat.
“Until we start addressing what we eat, how it is produced and everything in between, we're not going to make wide-scale progress towards existing conservation and biodiversity targets,” said Michael Clark, an environmental sustainability researcher at the University of Oxford and one of the study’s co-lead authors, in an interview with The Independent.
For food companies managing global supply chains that also say they are committed to preventing biodiversity loss, this study adds another layer of complexity to their sustainability agendas. The study’s authors made it clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing the globe’s food supply in the coming years. Various tactics such as decreasing meat and dairy consumption, tackling food waste and finding new ways to boost crop yields are all on the table.
The surging interest in plant-based protein in North America, for example, could help manage such a problem on this side of the pond, but such a shift will go for naught in regions where meat consumption has long been quite low and food insecurity looms as a constant threat. Conversely, talk about increasing yields in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa — where evidence suggests such a shift is already occurring — makes sense. But several time zones away, U.S. farmers have largely won that battle over the past few decades.
Some food and beverage companies are currently making the moves necessary to secure a more sustainable supply chain. It’s clear, however, that the time to rethink our global food system was yesterday — and companies and their suppliers will have to consider a wide range of strategies in order to be up to the task of growing more food with minimal destruction.
Image credit: PxHere
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.