Food Production System Threatening Food Security

“Land is a critical resource”. This is the headline of the IPCC Special Report, published 8 August 2019. And the pressure on land is growing. Sadly enough not an unexpected message, only one week after Earth Overshoot Day. Awareness is rising about how finite spaceship Earth’s resources are while at the same time we are experiencing the consequences.

Land as a critical resource suffers deeply from poor land management practices – especially under the impact of climate change, as the IPCC report states loud and clearly.

Design and beliefs

Radically changing design and beliefs of our current food production systems is crucial. Our current food production has been designed during the mid-20th century to fight hunger and feed the world. We are realizing that exactly the core ideas and concepts of this system are jeopardizing the world’s food supply in the future as this designed industrial system of food production accounts for 26% of the global ecological footprint.

Inherent to this system is the current belief that “producing cheap food is good”. This strong vested idea needs to be reassessed dramatically, starting in the Western world. The drive for cheap products facilitates the externalization of production costs. In other words, being price competitive by imposing costs to society at large has become the industry norm. Externalizing makes food cheap, but life is about more than low food prices.

Critical resource

Land is one of the three basic production factors, as identified in the classical economics of Smith and Ricardo. Apart from land prices we have forgotten to truly value this factor.

In modern times food security and natural resources are some of the main challenges as FAO, IFPRI and many studies recognize. And these resources are under threat, as the IPCC concludes. But IPCC also concludes (with high confidence) that “sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impact of multiple stressors, including climate change, on ecosystems and societies”. Land is thus a critical part of the solution. Let’s also echo that message. And convert it into actions.

Near term actions

Land as solution strongly resonates with Soil & More Impact’s ‘raison d’etre’. Our firm combines and digitalizes Technical Assistance and Impact Assessments. This blog is in no way pretending that solutions are easy. Soil & More Impacts frequent interactions with clients burst that bubble long ago. But we do think that promising action is possible.

Our contribution to untying this Gordian knot is threefold:

1. Develop more sustainable agriculture systems

Agriculture in all aspects needs to perform better, must become less resources inefficient. A direction to change is e.g. towards regenerative agriculture. Stop overshooting, become more circular. This includes measures for soil health (build-up of soil organic matter, cover crops, conservation tillage, etc.). Sustainable agriculture will regenerate topsoils and agroecosystems, will create soils as carbon sinks. We see these ideas more and more adopted by some of our clients, and large- or medium sized companies as Danone, General Mills, and Dr. Bronner’s. Even certifications for regenerative agriculture are established as the ROC standard or have been launched recently as The Carbon Underground.

2. Internalization of external costs

This means developing a framework that all environmental (and social) costs which are currently not accounted for will become transparent. Markets fail as inputs or outputs are not properly priced. If no regulation is in place the one company with the least internalized costs wins. True Cost Accounting (TCA) helps to estimate all costs, also externalized. TCA turns upside down the crruent system of the cheapest, most polluting, wins. SMI did a study for IFOAM on how taxation of chemical fertilizers can be a policy intervention and leads to more proper priced inputs.

3. Call for YOUR action

You, consumer, citizen, website visitor, linkedin network friend: share mentioned reports, distribute this blog, scare your social circle (and comfort them hereafter), convince them to read, tell your employer, email policymakers, shout at the airport, vote, buy considered, change diet…ACT.

We are facing the paradox that the food production system was designed based on the belief that it would prevent food insecurity. It is biting its own tail. We need a new belief that collective action to transform the system is needed, again, to deliver food security. Land is a crucial resource in driving that transformation.