True Cost Accounting

We aim to make visible the full costs of food by investing in efforts to identify, measure, and value the positive and negative environmental, social, and health externalities of food and agricultural systems, and to deploy innovative strategies to effect associated policy and market change.

Through our work on True Cost Accounting (TCA), we aim to see:

  • TCA established as a scientifically validated approach that informs policy and practice toward healthy and sustainable food systems amongst governments, farmers, corporations, the finance and investment community, and other relevant stakeholders.
  • A robust global dialogue on the importance and potential of TCA for food systems that strengthens TCA’s systemic approach (including climate, health, agroecology), and the utilization of shared frameworks and tools to inform decision-making.
  • TEEBAgriFood actively applied to business analyses, dietary comparisons, farm typologies, policy analyses, and national or corporate accounting, informing and informed by the broader TCA work of Global Alliance member foundations.

Highlights from our TCA work include:

TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework As a cornerstone of our work on True Cost Accounting, the Global Alliance supports TEEBAgriFood, a project housed at the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), and led by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) Office. TEEBAgriFood seeks to provide a comprehensive economic evaluation of the “eco-agri-food systems” complex, and to demonstrate that the economic environment in which farmers operate is distorted by significant externalities, both negative and positive, and a lack of awareness of dependency on natural, human, and social capital. The Global Alliance has supported the development of the TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework and associated reports.

TEEBAgriFood Applications The Global Alliance is investing in the practical application of the TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework, and has supported two studies on corn in Minnesota and Maize in Malawi: Application of the TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework to Corn Systems in Minnesota, U.S.A., by Harpinder Sandhu et al. and A TEEBAgriFood Analysis of the Malawi Maize Agri-food System by Stephanie White, Michigan State University.

Corn in the Mississippi Basin
In this study of corn in the Mississippi basin, the TEEBAgriFood evaluation framework is applied to understand and value links between produced, social, human and natural capital in two production systems. The study evaluates the true costs and benefits associated with conventional and organic corn production systems by examining all impacts and dependencies within the value chains. This analysis supports policy and practice in order to improve corn production systems and minimize impacts on environment and human health in the Mississippi basin. Read the technical report here.

Maize in Malawi
The notion that maize is central to food security in Malawi is a widely held view. To date, however, ‘maize-led development’ has produced disappointing outcomes. The study provides an overview of the historical, political, environmental context of the maize agrifood system in Malawi, and uses the TEEBAgriFood framework to analyze maize in relation to three distinct parameters: input stocks and flows, fertility stocks and flows, and maize stocks and flows. It explores the costs of remaining beholden to a maize-centric agrifood system, as well as the factors that keep this system in place despite calls for agricultural diversification. Read the technical report here.

The GA is also supporting a study on metrics and methodologies with farmers in the UK through the Sustainable Food Trust. Additional TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework applications are underway through the TEEB UN Environment office.

Another generation of applications are being planned, including an application of the framework to regenerative livestock grazing systems in the US, and to Andhra Pradesh’s Climate Resilient Zero Budget Natural Farming initiative.

True Cost Accounting Community of Practice The Global Alliance for the Future of Food initiated a True Cost Accounting Community of Practice with some of the leading TCA practitioners in the field to: 1) encourage networking, learning, and collective action; 2) engage in deeper explorations of various methodologies and applications; and 3) identify tools for implementation of TCA in food systems, including pricing, policy change, and on-farm decision-making.

True Cost Accounting Accelerator The Global Alliance for the Future of Food is supporting the development of a global True Cost Accounting Accelerator to mainstream the inclusion of natural, social and human capitals in food system decision making, harmonize approaches and bringing them to scale, quickly. The Accelerator will support and amplify messages of key stakeholders and partners engaged in TCA for food systems, including the Community of Practice members, and provide a platform for increased leadership, coordination, and alignment between TCA actors. The Accelerator will facilitate the development tools that support the application of TEEBAF and TCA across food systems.

Global Alliance supported publications and activities:

TEEB for Agriculture & Food Scientific and Economic Foundations Report

The TEEBAgriFood ‘Scientific and Economic Foundations’ report, supported by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, addresses the core theoretical issues and controversies underpinning the evaluation of the nexus between the agri-food sector, biodiversity and ecosystem services and externalities including human health impacts from agriculture on a global scale. It argues the need for a systems thinking approach, draws out issues related to health, nutrition, equity and livelihoods, presents a Framework for evaluation and describes how it can be applied, and identifies theories and pathways for transformational change.Read More


At Dumfries House, Scotland, in early May 2018, HRH The Prince of Wales and Sustainable Food Trust hosted a convening on the Future of Food and Farming, with the Global Alliance for the Future of Food as a collaborative partner. In connection to its ongoing work on the positive and negative externalities of the food system, the Global Alliance hosted a session on true cost accounting (TCA) with a stellar panel.Read More


On True Cost Accounting & The Future of Food

The economic reality in which our food system operates has a significant impact on how food and agriculture policy and practice affects pressing issues like climate change, biodiversity, soil, food security, and public health. This brochure outlines work the Global Alliance and its members are doing to advance true cost accounting (TCA) and efforts to make visible the full costs of food.Read More

Webinar recording + Q&A's: Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus

On 12 December 2017 the Global Alliance for the Future of Food hosted a webinar presenting the findings of the recent Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus report. The webinar recording is now available, along with a Q&A Summary with responses from report lead Cécilia Rocha and webinar discussants Roberto Ciati, Simon Poole, and Olivia Yambi.Read More

Ecosystems and agro-biodiversity across small and large-scale maize production systems

This report by the  National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) in Mexico is one of six  “exploratory studies” commissioned by the UN Environment TEEB Office and funded by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, with the purpose of feeding the evidence base to feed into the wider initiative on TEEB for Agriculture & Food (TEEBAgriFood). These studies are meant to assess the impacts and dependencies arising from particular agricultural sectors and systems.Read More

Climate Change & Food Systems: Assessing Impacts and Opportunities

Climate Change & Food Systems: Assessing Impacts and Opportunities

In this Global Alliance commissioned report led by Meridian Institute, expert authors synthesize peer-reviewed literature that examines the mutual impacts of food system activities (ranging from pre-production to production, post-production, consumption, and waste) and climate change, develop 10 key messages, and document mitigation opportunities and their adaptation potential.Read More

Methodology for Valuing the Agriculture and the Wider Food System Related Costs of Health

Supported by the Global Alliance, this FAO study develops a replicable methodology to measure and place a monetary value on the impacts of food and agricultural systems on health, and concretely tests it by applying the proposed methodology to selected health conditions in the UK.Read More

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Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus

IPES-Food/Global Alliance for the Future of Food publication Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus: Addressing Practices, Political Economy, and Power Relations to Build Healthier Food Systems provides a comprehensive overview of the health impacts of food systems, identifying the channels through which food systems affect human health, and how prevailing power relations and imperatives in food systems help to shape our understanding of the impacts they generateRead More

The Future of Food in a Climate Changing World: 2nd International Dialogue Summary Report

The Future of Food in a Climate Changing World: 2nd International Dialogue Summary Report

In May 2017, the Global Alliance hosted its 2nd International Dialogue: The Future of Food in a Climate Changing World. This summary report is an overview of the dialogue, opportunities explored, and potential actions the Global Alliance and participating experts and leaders identified as potential pathways towards a more sustainable, secure and equitable future of food.Read More

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The True Cost of American Food Conference

This summary report highlights the landmark conference held by Sustainable Food Trust in April 2017,  ‘The True Cost of American Food,’ supported in-part by the Global Alliance. Over two days, more than 100 US and international speakers presented evidence to quantify and monetize the hidden costs of food production and explore how we might implement a logical, economic system based on the latest evidence.Read More

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A Briefing Note on the TEEBAgriFood Initiative

March 2017 Briefing Note was prepared by the Global Alliance to provide members and other key stakeholders an update on where the TEEBAgriFood initiative is at, and what next steps are for 2017/2018.Read More

The Future of Food and Agriculture: Quantifying the Social and Environmental Benefits and Costs of Different Production Systems

To address the need for a true cost accounting of food systems, Dr. Harpinder Sandhu, of Flinders University, South Australia, has developed a new assessment tool which identifies, quantifies and monetises these costs. This would allow food prices to be adjusted, by various policy mechanisms, to reflect its true production cost.Read More


The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food (TEEBAgriFood)

A study housed at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that will define and carry out a methodology for measuring positive and negative externalities related to food and agriculture production, processing, distributing and consumption around the globe. Members of the Working Group are providing funding to the study, as well as actively participating on the Steering Committee and disseminating the study results.Read More

Sustainable Food Trust True Cost of American Food Conference 2016

In April 2016 the Global Alliance for the Future of Food sponsored the Sustainable Food Trust’s True Cost of American Food Conference, which brought together thought-leaders and interested citizens to explore the reasons why food from the most damaging production systems appear cheap, when its real cost to the environment and public health is very high. The two-day conference featured plenary  sessions  and smaller, focused parallel sessions.Read More

real cost of food

The Real Cost of Food: Examining the Social, Environmental, and Health Impacts of Producing Food

Funded by the Global Alliance, this Food Tank report aims to provide an overview of the current work being done on true cost accounting and help point a way forward for future work on this issue. It is meant to be a call to action and to instill better accounting measures in food and agricultural production.Read More